The Real Fun Begins

It’s history in the making, so they tell us. American voters this fall will elect either the country’s first black president or the oldest candidate ever to take the oath of office.

History? Don’t bother me with that. The most important development of this campaign season, purely from an entertainment point of view, is the nomination by the Libertarian Party of Robert L. “Bob” Barr of Georgia as their presidential candidate. I’m not sure if the American political system will ever be the same again.

Just a look at the highlights of Barr’s career illustrates his potential for injecting some wackiness into the dullest of races. He’s always been a walking political time bomb, ready to explode with something quotable at a moment’s notice.

Early in his congressional career, Barr whipped up enough votes to pass the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages. During debate on that bill, Barr declared, “The flames of hedonism, the flames of narcissism, the flames of self-centered morality are licking at the very foundation of society.”

This earnest defender of marriage has himself been married three times and divorced twice. (Another defender of traditional marriage among Georgia’s congressional delegation, Paul Broun, has been married at least four times.)

Barr led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton months before the national media had ever heard the name “Monica Lewinsky” or understood the significance of a navy blue dress (Barr was also one of the House managers for the unsuccessful Senate trial of Clinton).

In the midst of the furor over the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, porno publisher Larry Flynt charged that Barr “was guilty of king-size hypocrisy” for opposing abortion publicly but never objecting privately to an abortion obtained by one of his previous wives in the 1980s.

While he was going after Clinton, Barr found time to demand that Army officials stop sanctioning the practice of witchcraft on military bases, a criticism he launched after reading a media report about soldiers at Fort Hood holding a Wiccan celebration of the vernal equinox.

Allowing those kinds of festivities could lead to “all sorts of bizarre practices being supported by the military under the rubric of religion,” Barr said.

During Barr’s final race for Congress in 2002, he was in the headlines again when he accidentally discharged a .38-caliber pistol at a fund raiser held by a Georgia lobbyist – prompting a fusillade of jokes that the incident was another example of the congressman’s “hair-trigger” temper (a Barr campaign email helpfully explained that “he was not aware there was a bullet in the chamber of his gun”).

In that same race, where voters ultimately rejected Barr for the more conventional conservative John Linder, a political activist dressed as the cartoon character Yosemite Sam and carrying giant cardboard pistols made a loud appearance at a Barr campaign event.

Barr also stirred up laughs when he filed a lawsuit seeking $30 million in damages from Bill Clinton, James Carville and Flynt for “loss of reputation and emotional distress” at the same time he was supporting legislation to put a limit of $250,000 on “pain and suffering” damages in liability lawsuits.

This is a guy who obviously appreciates good comedy, but Barr has made some serious observations as well about the political scene that are worthy of discussion. He switched from the Republican Party to the Libertarian because he was concerned about the Bush administration’s actions against basic civil liberties.

During an interview with a talk radio host in Atlanta, he pointed out that the U.S. military forces in Iraq long ago ceased being an army of liberation and are now an army of occupation.

“I don’t think it’s an insult to the troops,” Barr said. “It’s a fact. We’re occupying the country ... . There’s no despot or dictator over there. I mean, what are we liberating them from – themselves?”

Whether he’s trying to be a philosopher or a comedian, Barr brings something to the race that would have been lacking under a traditional Republican-Democratic matchup.

The last Georgian to appear on a presidential ballot was Jimmy Carter, defeated in 1980 when he drew only 41 percent of the vote against Ronald Reagan. Barr’s share of the vote won’t be one-tenth of Carter’s – but I think he’s going to have a lot more fun.

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