Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bob Barr's Curious Flip-Flop

Some pundits have observed that former Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr, now running for the presidency as the Libertarian Party candidate, could siphon off votes from John McCain. But could he turn out to actually take some votes that might have gone to the Democratic nominee?

And just how did Barr go -- in a time span of roughly 48 hours -- from defending the Defense Marriage Act, which he wrote in 1996, to vowing to push for its repeal?

On the Friday afternoon before last (May 23), Barr came on my radio program to talk about his run for the presidency. The Libertarian Party was convening that weekend in Denver, and he was hopeful that he would get the nomination.

We spent some time discussing DOMA, which he authored and sponsored in 1996 and which Bill Clinton signed into law. He'd come out a few years ago against an amendment to the U.S. Constitution barring gays from marrying, largely because he felt DOMA took care of the problem: states would not have to recognize gay marriages from other states if they didn't want to do so. On the show, he supported the California Supreme Court decision of two weeks ago based on the fact that California exercised its sovereign right and that other states would not have to recognize the marriages because of DOMA. We went back and forth about DOMA, the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution, and how, in my view, his position just didn't gel with libertarian principles. Nonetheless, he staunchly defended DOMA.

Then, two days later, in his acceptance speech after snagging the Libertarian Party nomination, Barr vowed that he would work to repeal DOMA!

What the hell happened? According to Brian Miller, a Libertarian Party member and a member of Outright Libertarians, an LGBT group, Barr was told he wouldn't get the nomination unless he changed his position on DOMA. Outright Libertarians led the charge with the leadership to pressure Barr; Miller is a listener to my show and heard me comparing audio clips showing Barr's turnaround, and called in last week to explain what happened behind the scenes at the convention.

Listen in to the clip below of Barr on my program. And then watch the vid-clip of him accepting the Libertarian nomination two days later to see the flip-flop for yourself.

Listen: Bob Barr defending DOMA, May 23

Watch: Bob Barr calling for DOMA repeal, May 25

It's always great when a prominent foe of gay rights does a turnaround, whatever the motivations, and it's great to see that LGBT activists in the Libertarian Party have some clout. But what does this mean, if anything, for the election? As stated, the thinking of some since Barr entered the race has been that Barr could pull votes away from John McCain in the way Ralph Nader took votes from Al Gore in 2000. But with his announcement that he would repeal DOMA it's not likely that a lot of Christian conservatives -- one large constituency in the party that is distrustful of McCain and could be enticed to bolt --are going to gravitate toward Barr now. They may just make the pragmatic choice and go for McCain since Barr isn't arousing their passions -- and, on paper, McCain is now to the right of Barr on marriage, since he supports DOMA as well as state amendments banning marriage.

I don't see many Democrats voting for Barr over the Democratic nominee, but some gay Republicans and the like-minded who might have gone for Obama (and certainly many have said they have been impressed by Obama) over John McCain might now go to Barr, who is in many ways their dream candidate: He supports all the bedrock conservative principles and is now opposed to DOMA and any other federal antigay legislation. And let's not forget that, according to exit polls, 23% of the gay, lesbian and bisexual vote in 2004 -- assumed to be largely gay Republicans -- voted for the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, following up on a similar percentage in 2000. Considering the closeness of both elections, their numbers would have made the difference in Florida and Ohio, had they voted for Al Gore or John Kerry.

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