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Libertarian Candidate Bob Barr Discusses Economic Crisis

October 20, 2008 at 6:35 PM EDT
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Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, the Libertarian presidential nominee, sits down with Judy Woodruff to discuss his party's approach to the economic crisis, foreign policy agenda in Iraq and Afghanistan and his goal of offering a third choice to Americans in this election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to our interview with Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr. He served as a Republican congressman from Georgia from 1995 to 2003. He joined the Libertarian Party in 2006.

Congressman Barr, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

FORMER REP. BOB BARR, Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate: Judy, thank you for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Remind us, first of all, what’s the philosophy of the Libertarian Party?

BOB BARR: It’s very mainstream. Maximize individual liberty; minimize government power.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why do you want to be president?

BOB BARR: Because neither of the other two candidates or none of the other third-party candidates really are and would move us in that direction.

Both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama very clearly, as we’ve seen from this latest bailout nonsense, want to move us dramatically down the road of more government spending, more government power, and that necessarily means less decision-making for the individuals, parents, small businesses, and their communities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So we’ve watched the federal government, as you’re reminding us, take this unprecedented series of steps over the last few weeks to help out these financial institutions, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac. What would you do differently?

BOB BARR: First of all, “bailout” would not be a word that would be mentioned positively in a Barr administration.

The first person, Judy, that I would have called into my office would have been somebody we haven’t heard from at all, and that is the attorney general. And as president, I would ask the attorney general, “Where in heck have you been?”

We have massive fraud being perpetrated here among financial institutions, investment houses, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac very likely. Why haven’t there been any prosecutions that would reassure the markets, reassure the American people that their investments, their hard-earned dollars are, in fact, being protected?

The second thing, in a Barr administration, we would not see the government competing with private industry and private investment houses. Barely had that process of private investment houses and investors started coming into the marketplace and buying up some of these troubled assets, such as Wells Fargo coming in and buying up Wachovia, then the federal government came in and put a stop to all of that by competing with private industry.

Different views on intervention

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what are you saying? Are you saying the federal government should have stayed completely out of this process?

BOB BARR: What the federal government should be doing is enforcing the laws and the regulations that are already on the books to assure the American people, to assure the marketplace, to assure the credit houses that the government will stand behind its efforts to assure transparency and integrity in these processes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So how would that have helped these banks, some of whom we're told are in very weak condition? The federal government has just put money, injected money into them last week. What would that have done? Or would you have just let these institutions fail?

BOB BARR: Well, there are a number of things that could have happened that should have happened that didn't happen because of the government intervention.

There certainly are, as in the case, for example, of Washington Mutual, institutions that needed to go into receivership. Perhaps some of them should go into bankruptcy.

That doesn't mean that all of those assets disappear. It simply means that there's a reorganization and their assets and their debt, certainly, would be bought up by other institutions that see an opportunity, like Wells Fargo, like Warren Buffett did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there were institutions that took a look, other financial institutions, and in many cases we were told they weren't going to do anything, that either the federal government stepped in or these institutions were going to fail.

BOB BARR: Part of the problem is, with all of the government folks running around saying, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling, and the only way out of this crisis is this massive government bailout," that caused everybody else to back away.

Credit markets froze simply because the government said, "We are going to come in and bail you out." So those private institutions that could have started freeing up credit backed away and didn't move in.

To be honest with you, I think what the American people are going to see down the road is significant inflationary pressure as a result of all this government printed, you know, this new money that the government is putting in.

And they're always -- they're going to be squeezed, because housing prices, because of the government buying up these mortgages, are going to remain depressed.

I think the American people are going to start realizing that a heavy price is going to have to be paid because of this government intervention.

Too much government spending

JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you have done about the housing market, about these mortgages?

BOB BARR: Here, again, part of it is would have been handled by the federal government doing what it's supposed to do, and that is to be prosecuting fraud. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, although they're...

JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm asking in the immediate term, when we were looking at a crisis and something had to be done immediately?

BOB BARR: Well, a lot of this is a government definition of a crisis. The government defines the situation as a crisis. And then it comes in and says, "We're the only way that you can solve it."

If, in fact, there was -- and there may have been -- a case that could be made for an immediate loan, for example, to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it should have been coupled with a long-term solution, that is, privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

All of these short-term steps without any long-term resolution is simply putting off, staving off for a later date the real problem, which is way too much government spending.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about a few other things from a Libertarian standpoint that you'd like to see done. You've talked about which departments of the government you would like to see done away with. What are a couple of those or more?

BOB BARR: What we have to do first, again, is get a handle on federal spending. Then, if you look, for example, at the array of government agencies, departments and offices, there are some that just cry out for the government to start backing away.

The departments like the Department of Education, which has failed since its inception, Judy, to have fulfilled its mandate of improving government, improving educational standards.

The Department of Energy, which has not only failed to meet its mandate of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, but has presided over a 30-year increase. These are departments that somebody ought to be asking, and Sens. McCain and Obama are not, "Why do we keep spending tens of billions of dollars on these agencies that year after year after year fail to do what they're supposed to do?"

Goals in Iraq, Afghanistan

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me turn your attention abroad for a moment. What about the growing crisis in Afghanistan? This is a country that both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain have said the U.S. needs to send more troops to, to beef up the U.S. presence there.

BOB BARR: We in the Libertarian Party believe in quality, not quantity. You can ferret out the terrorists if we're serious about ferreting out the terrorists, whether they're in Afghanistan or those mountainous regions of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, without sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops in.

Primarily, those troops are going to be used for the same purpose that they were in Iraq, and that is to prop up the civilian government in Afghanistan. That's not what our troops should be used for.

Our troops should be used based on good intelligence to go after the terrorists that did us harm or are about to do us harm.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What's the goal in Afghanistan?

BOB BARR: The goal in Afghanistan is to find the terrorists and take them out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the goal in Iraq? And how much longer would you keep troops there?

BOB BARR: There's no need for a significant number of U.S. troops. Saddam Hussein is gone; that was the purpose for us going into Iraq in the first place back in 2003.

If the Iraqi government cannot from this point forward, after hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops being over there, hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars, 4,500 U.S. lives, stand on its own, then something is dramatically wrong with why we were over there in the first place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And wouldn't Sen. McCain call that leaving -- well, losing? Wouldn't he say that the U.S. should stay until there's been a victory?

BOB BARR: Well, according to Sen. McCain, there has been. The Iraqi government has basically solved a lot of its own problems. The so-called surge has worked.

If we can't leave after the surge works and we couldn't leave before, because the surge hadn't been tried yet, then we're left with the question with Sen. McCain, when in Heaven's name could we leave then?

If we couldn't leave when things were going badly, we can't leave now that things have gone swimmingly, according to him, one presumes that he was serious when he said we ought to stay over there for a hundred years.

Party goals

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think the main international problem facing this country is?

BOB BARR: The main international problem facing America is our lack of -- our loss of influence in the world and our lack of an ability to define what U.S. interests really are.

We're foundering around over in Europe, saying, "Well, we need to expand NATO, but we don't know what the real mission of NATO is. We need to oppose Russia; we don't really know how to do that."

We have problems in our own hemisphere. We don't know what we're doing down there. We lack vision and leadership, Judy. And that's what we've had in years past, but we don't with this administration, and it's dramatically reducing our ability to project our interests and to protect our interests abroad.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bringing it back home, two weeks ago, so much focus, as we've just been hearing in the rest of the program, on the two major party candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain. What's Bob Barr's goal within the next two weeks? What do you want to accomplish?

BOB BARR: Our goal over the next two weeks is to acquaint as many American voters as we can with the fact that there is a real choice out there, that they do not need to feel themselves bound, as they have cycle after cycle, to vote for the lesser of two evils, to vote for big government or really big government.

The Libertarian Party is a very mainstream party. It's a mainstream philosophy. It's of returning power from Washington to parents, to schools, to businesses in their communities. We want to acquaint as many Americans with that philosophy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you believe you can win?

BOB BARR: Winning is very difficult, given the degree to which the deck is stacked against us by the two major parties. But we hope to accomplish in essence, perhaps, Judy, what Ross Perot did 16 years ago, to have a major impact, positive impact, on public policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Barr, candidate of the Libertarian Party, thank you very much.

BOB BARR: My pleasure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.