"Renaissance Thinking About the Issues of Our Day"
Thom interviewed Bob Barr, Libertarian Party Presidential Nominee. They discussed the Supreme Court ruling on habeas corpus for detainees, impeachable crimes, the lack of oversight by Congress, how to deal with problems such as the contamination of tomatoes by E coli, doing away with federal programs, and balancing budgets - raising taxes vs. cutting spending.
[Thom]: The Libertarian Party has had it's party, its nominating convention, and they have decided that the former Republican Congressman from Georgia Bob Barr is going to represent the party, bobbarr2008.com is his website and Bob Barr welcome to the show.
[Barr]: Thank you, it's great to be with you all once again.
[Thom]: Yeah, good to have you back here with us. You know, there are some areas, and I think we both know that where we starkly agree and where we starkly disagree and I'd like to touch on some of both of those if we can today. An area where I suspect that we probably both starkly agree, today's Supreme Court decision saying, 'sorry the constitution says habeas corpus is habeas corpus'.
[Barr]: This is a tremendously important decision. I was, as many Americans who pay attention to these issues like yourself, were a year and a half ago distressed to see the then Attorney General of the United States, Alberto Gonzales, appear before the Senate of the United States and basically stake out the position that habeas corpus is no longer considered a fundamental right by this administration. And yet there was no public outcry. At least we have this decision of the US Supreme Court. Now, one would have hoped it would have been a 9-0 decision rather than a 5-4 decision, but at least they very clearly now have enunciated the standard and that is that habeas corpus is a fundamental right and cannot be arbitrarily or cavalierly taken away from somebody detained by the United States and its territory.
[Thom]: Well, and in fact the constitution says habeas corpus shall not be suspended but upon insurrection or invasion, as I recall the language, and uprising or invasion or something like that, and it's just mind boggling, which raises the question: from the Libertarian perspective, or from Bob Barr's perspective, what we do about people who have grossly violated their constitutional oath; George W. Bush, the Bush Administration? I mean, you led the floor, you were one of the floor leaders for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. It seems to me that at the very least we have impeachable acts, violations of the constitution, not just by George W. Bush but I would argue by, we still have three members the Supreme Court who were sitting in 2000 when Bush v. Gore was issued which was in my opinion unconstitutional. I mean, they essentially said in the decision, this decision cannot be used as precedent, which is like saying that they're stepping outside of what their rights are, and the constitution clearly says the states will decide who, what electors they're setting up, not the Supreme Court. For example, I mean, how do we hold accountable, from Colin Powell to George Bush to Dick Cheney, for the war in Iraq, for, you know, the strange decisions of the Supreme Court? What's, what are your thoughts on that?
[Barr]: Congress has failed miserably under both Republican and Democrat leadership in recent years to fulfill its obligation in terms of both general oversight of the executive branch to ensure that the laws passed by the Congress are carried out by the Executive appropriately and with due deference to the intent of the Congress. The Congress, one Congress after another has failed to conduct appropriate oversight. It doesn't matter whether it's Republican or Democrat; both of them are bad at it. And secondly, the American people don't demand that the Congress conduct proper oversight and that means to conduct inquiries to determine whether there is evidence of impeachable offenses. The American people can't do it directly, we can't have a citizens court; the mechanism as provided in the constitution, Congress, has to do that.
In order for there to be articles of impeachment crafted, or even an appropriate inquiry of impeachment, there has to be some evidence. You know, we don't want people just shooting from the hip and that's the job of the Congress. And Congress has simply not done that. They have not inquired into these specifics, for example, of what appears to be the unlawful eavesdropping on Americans citizens by this administration and into the work of the telecommunications companies in carrying out those surveillances in order to determine whether or not there is evidence of an impeachable offense there.
[Thom]: Right. For example, one of many, Kucinich listed 35 of them a couple of days ago. The Libertarians, we're experiencing right now a problem with tomatoes. You know, general freak out across United States about tomatoes. Here in the Pacific northwest, I'm broadcasting from Portland Oregon, and in Oregon and Washington State when the lettuce E coli scare happened half a year ago or thereabouts, both states, I believe, I know Washington State did, I believe Oregon did is well, put into place inspections on the ground at the sites, you know, had state inspectors going out and testing irrigation water for fecal contamination or bacterial contamination so that we know that agricultural produce produced in the Pacific Northwest is actually safe. There are no unsafe locally grown tomatoes coming out of the Pacific Northwest, we can guarantee that. Libertarians, by and large, if this were being done by the federal government would be opposed to this. Am I correct?
[Barr]: Yeah, probably most Libertarians would be, you know, to let the marketplace prevail. Personally I think there is an appropriate role for government to carry out such inspections because there are some things that it is absolutely impossible, not just unfeasible, but impossible for the consuming public, the average consumer to determine whether or not something is safe, and by the time the average consumer might be able to determine that, they might be dead. You know, and then, sure, you have a right in the courts, but that ain't gonna help you.
[Thom]: So you're a liberal on this issue. I mean, because the Libertarian perspective, you know, having been there, I mean, you know, twenty years ago inside that party. The Libertarian perspective is that the government should basically be running the police and the army and that's it; get the hell out of everything else and let the market fix it all.
[Barr]: Well, there are all sorts of jokes about, you know, Libertarians and how few people it takes to screw in a light bulb. It takes no Libertarians because they let the free market do it, and so forth.
[Thom]: Right, and my comment is that Libertarians are Republicans who want to smoke dope and get laid, because Libertarians are opposed to laws that would prevent prostitution being legal and that would criminalize drugs. But on the other hand, like the Republican Party to a large extent, they talk at least about doing away with federal programs. But it sounds to me like...
[Barr]: There are a lot of federal programs and federal agencies that do need to be done away with, and this is where all Libertarians can agreed, even though there might be differences on how far to go in some areas. And I think this is reflective of the fact that they nominated Bob Barr as opposed to some of their other nominees, candidates, for the presidential nomination. We all agree on the need to dramatically downsize and reduce the scope, the power, the size and the cost of the federal government.
[Thom]: Well, where would you do that?
[Barr]: Many of these issues such as, you know, you're talking about, proper, an inspection of a food crop, for example, can be handled much more appropriately by state and local governments, not by the federal government, for example. So in a lot of areas, yeah the Libertarians, what I would try and do as president and begin doing as president, is at least start getting a lot of these powers that are exercised terribly inefficiently and way to costly by the federal government, back to state and local governments.
[Thom]: So what would happen is ultimately that if somebody had the misfortune of being born in West Virginia as opposed to being born in New York State, that their schools would be less standard their food would be less safe because the tax base in West Virginia is lower than that in New York State and so the resources and services provided by that government of that state, you're essentially going back before the Civil War, before the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments are you not?
[Barr]: No, I think that's a gross oversimplification.
[Thom]: But before the Civil War we had a strong, we had strong states and weak federal government. After the Civil War we had a strong federal government and weak states.
[Barr]: Well, the real tremendous growth of the federal government occurred later on in the nineteen century, I think, not so much right after the Civil War. That had something to do with it, certainly, but it was...
[Thom]: Most of it after World War One, yeah.
[Barr]: During, beginning in the so called gilded age and the industrialization of the country and then certainly early in the twentieth century it just took off.
[Barr]: Under both Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Democrats like Woodrow Wilson.
[Barr]: But there certainly there there are going to be differences among how the different states handle certain public policy matters. That's a basic principle of federalism, and I think that's to be supported and applauded.
[Thom]: Let's discuss, can you stick around for another segment?
[Barr]: Just one more segment.
[Thom]: Great, OK. Bob Barr, I would like to discuss federalism with you and find out what the Libertarian philosophy is on that. Bob Barr, let's see, bobbarr2008.com by the way the website and, of course, the Libertarian party. We'll be right back.
[Thom]: We're talking with Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party's nominee for president of the United States, bobbarr2008.com and... the Libertarian Party ...
[Thom]: ... I'm looking at the historical budget data published by the cbo.gov, the Congressional Budget Office. And from 1962 to today, year by year. In '62 we were 5.9% off budget in terms of the deficit, I mean, it was less than 10% off budget. And that held right up through '75, then it went into the range around 40% off budget up until Reagan came into office. Starting with the Reagan years it started hitting 120%, 207% '83, 221% '85, 237% '86, hitting 300% in the 90's until we got to 1999 when we were back to 1.9% positive. These are all negative numbers. 1.9% positive, in other words a balanced budget and a surplus in 2000 83%. Now we're back, now we're at 567.4, you know, percent off. We have this massive deficit and debt associated with it, and you look at the numbers and the only time that we had a balanced budget was when Bill Clinton came in and said, 'OK, we're going to raise taxes' by a few points and it actually helped the economy. What's wrong with doing that?
[Barr]: Well, the fact of the matter is, we have, we had a balanced budget during those few years when we had two different parties in power. You had the Republican majority that came in in the '94 election in the House and the Senate, and a Democrat [sic] president that for, you know, whatever faults he might have had, Bill Clinton is a very bright man and recognized that the American public was tired of deficit spending. It became a real issue and even though we had a great deal of back and forth between the budgets that we were passing and the spending bills and the president, he vetoed some and sent them back, at the end of the day in 1997 what made the difference was the Balanced Budget Act that was passed then and the Welfare Reform and Bill Clinton was enough of a realist to know that even though he might not have agreed with all of it, it was in the best interests of the country to sign that bill into law and that's what really made the difference.
[Thom]: But, you know, I'm looking at the numbers here; the total income to the country 1.6 trillion '97, 1.652 trillion '98, 1.7 trillion '99, and then you get up, the income was steadily going up, outlays were steadily going up. It's just that income surpassed outlays for the first time in '98.
[Barr]: Yeah, we're saying the same thing.
[Thom]: So, no, what I'm saying is I don't see, outlays never went down. You said that this was the result of budget cutting. There's, you know, the numbers for federal spending are consistently and steadily going up, it's just that when they increased taxes, revenues went up faster.
[Barr]: I think, Thom, I really don't want to, don't think it's relevant to get into an argument over that. The bottom line is, where we had government power, where you had competing interest in competing philosophies, different parties in control, and you did have a combination, cuts in spending. They, you know, they might not have been the kind of cuts that I would have voted for that were deep true cuts, but you had decreases in the growth of government spending. You did have also, as part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, you had cuts in the rate of taxation on capital gains; that spurred economic growth, you had a good and positive combination of a number of different factors that gave rise to fiscal responsibility for a brief shining moment in time.
[Thom]: Right, but wasn't one of the major, my point was that the major factor was that we said, 'okay, this is what our tax rates have to be in order to pay, to have income'...
[Barr]: But if you're saying that the way to improve the economy is to raise taxes, no, I will not buy into that. Absolutely not.
[Thom]: Yes, that's what I'm saying. Yeah. So we disagree with that. So where would you cut? I'm looking at the federal budget here and I don't see anything that's more than just a couple of percent that's not Department of Defense, HHS or the Treasury.
[Barr]: Well, I'm not quite sure what you're looking at, but the Department of Education takes a not-insignificant chunk of the budget. I'd be hard pressed to find where in our constitutional, our historical form of government, there's justification for the federal government to be spending tens of billions of dollars on education policy which is and should be returned as a power to state and local governments.
[Thom]: Right, the Department of Education's about sixty billion dollars. That's the area where you would say, for example, but sixty billion dollars is a drop in the bucket.
[Barr]: Well, you gotta start somewhere, Thom.
[Barr]: I mean, one could look at that and become very frustrated and cynical and say, 'gee, there's nothing we can do, everything is just too big'. But you've got to start somewhere. As president, one thing I would do immediately would be to issue an order for a 10% decrease in spending in the Executive Office of the President, that is something that a president has some control over, and send two messages immediately to the Congress of the United States on taking office in January of 2009. One would be, 'don't bother sending me any bill that that purports to raise the debt ceiling because it will be vetoed. Now if you want to override the veto, people know exactly where the spendthrifts are, and that is in the Congress, not in the White House'. And send another message to the Congress that no Appropriations Bill that increases spending over the previous year will be likewise, will not be signed into law.
[Barr]: Always a pleasure, Thom. I look forward to it again.
[Thom]: Thank you."
Transcribed by Sue Nethercott.