News & Views » Metropolis

Bob Barr channels Sinclair Lewis

It would be nice if Obama and McCain paid heed to the libertarian credo



It's time to confess. I've been on the lam for eight long years, running from the truth, afraid to admit my heinous crime. But here it is, the tale of a broken man, a miscreant responsible for abetting a horrific act that cost tens and tens of thousands of lives, drove our country into ruin, and brought America the scorn of civilized men and women everywhere.

Yes, it's true. I endorsed Ralph Nader in 2000.

You ask: What's the big deal?

It's not just that I endorsed Nader but it's where I endorsed him. In 2000, I was editor of Creative Loafing's newspaper in Tampa. That burg, if you learned any geography in school, is in Florida – the state that decided the 2000 election.

Without arguing the point that George Bush stole the vote when his bro, Jeb, disenfranchised tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters based on allegations that they were convicted felons (very, very few were) the official tally gave W. the victory by 537 votes. My newspaper had 200,000 or so readers, and my endorsement was reprinted in other publications and online.

Do the math. Could I have swayed 537 gullible Floridians to vote for Nader? Oh, woe.

So, not in a million years would I consider endorsing another third-party candidate, Bob Barr, for president. I truly like the former Republican congressman turned Libertarian presidential contender. I've been on a debating tag team with him and enjoyed ganging up on lawyers from Bush's Justice Department over the anti-American attack on our sacred liberties called the PATRIOT Act. I side with Barr over gun rights – after all, you can't have a First Amendment unless you have a Second. And, I fancy myself a small "l" libertarian – albeit one who believes government always nudges the economy in someone's favor, and that I'd rather see it tilted toward middle-class, working people, not trust-fund babies and multinational corporations. I believe in capitalism, not corporatism.

With the caveat that this is not an endorsement, Bob Barr has some damn important things to tell us. It would be nice if John McCain and Barack Obama paid some heed to him. We hear M and O talk about the war, blather platitudes about the economy, slime each other through surrogates. There's something metaphorically fitting about how the media covers elections like horse races – when the race ends, you're right back where it began.

Picture Barr as the horse who ran in another direction.

What Obama and McCain don't talk much about is liberty. Oh, sure, the Republicans wrap themselves in the flag and employ strident jingoism to gloss over Bush's practice of torture and his systematic assault on our freedoms. And the Democrats are now aping the Republicans by sporting American flag lapel pins, as if a quarter-ounce of metal could balance the colossal shift in power from the people to the potentates.

The Republicans handed Bush authoritarian powers, and the Dems largely acquiesced. The new president will inherit those powers. Can we trust either Obama or McCain not to aspire to monarchy? Obama, to be sure, has opposed some of the more threatening measures of the PATRIOT Act, and Joe Biden said he would consider prosecuting Bushies for operating Gulag@Gitmo. McCain, I fear, would seek expansion of the War on America's Freedoms.

With either guy, liberty -- as in free men and women able to make choices without fear of their government -- is absent from the debate, and that means it's in jeopardy. When Patrick Henry intoned, "Give me liberty or give me death," he wasn't writing a bumper sticker. America is either free or dead.

"People are afraid of the state, and that's wrong," Barr says. "We've gone so far as to permit the president to declare that anyone is a terrorist combatant." Under Bush's doctrine, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Andy Young and John Lewis could have been spirited away without trial, without recourse to courts, without anyone knowing where they were or why they were there – indefinitely.

Indeed, unruly demonstrators last week at the Republican convention in St. Paul were charged with PATRIOT Act-inspired local laws as terrorists. The cops, rising to the highest GOP standards, targeted journalists who were videotaping other arrests.

Barr is the only candidate who, when it comes to the erosion of liberties, loudly proclaims (apologies to Obama): "Enough!" And he points out, "This isn't just Bush, it's both parties." Bill Clinton's Justice Department happily imprisoned – indefinitely and without charges – dozens of people based only on "secret evidence" the detainees weren't allowed to see or rebut. Bush merely built on that.

McCain sees nothing wrong with Bush big brotherism, while Obama is far too tentative for my comfort. Barr unequivocally would roll back the egregious portions of Bush's nascent dictatorship. "No 'sneak and peak' when I'm president," says Barr, referring to unconstitutional searches allowed under the PATRIOT Act. "There will be no doubt about the right to habeas corpus."

In 1935, novelist Sinclair Lewis penned It Can't Happen Here, a warning against a fascist takeover that, because it was set in a prosaic small Vermont town, was even edgier than George Orwell's 1984. Lewis' book was an astute observation of the dire Depression era times, an America as bitterly divided as it is today. There was a strong pro-Nazi movement. Indeed, a BBC documentary last year asserted that George Bush's grandfather, Prescott Bush, was part of what has been called the "Business Plot" (Google it) to topple Franklin Roosevelt and install a fascist regime. That allegation – along with the amply documented role Prescott played in a bank that invested funds for top Nazis in America – has long been a staple of us Bush haters. And it leads to the obvious observation that apples don't fall far from the tree.

There are remarkable similarities between Lewis' 1930s novel and today's news. For Lewis, it was a folksy if dim senator (Berzelius Windrip), the Hearst newspapers, a war-based-on-lies with Mexico, demagogue preachers, attacks on science and the "liberal" media, and the corporatists or "corpos." Today, it's a folksy if dim Bush, Fox News, a war-based-on-lies with Iraq, demagogue preachers, attacks on science and the "liberal" media, and the neo-cons.

Lewis wrote in words eerily appropriate today: "All dictators followed the same routine of torturer, as if they had all read the same manual of sadistic etiquette." And, particularly scary, Dictator Windrip proclaims: "The Executive has got to have a freer hand ... and not be tied down by dumb shyster lawyer congressmen taking months to shoot off their mouths in debates."

The big question for voters is whether any candidate – or looking back, previous administrations – regard It Can't Happen Here as a warning or a handbook.

Add a comment