Next year’s Republican primary in Georgia’s eleventh congressional district is likely to be a crowded slugfest. The incumbent, GOP representative Phil Gingrey, is running for the state’s open Senate seat; the Republicans aiming to win his House seat in 2014 include Susan Davis, Allen Levene, state representative Ed Lindsey Jr., state senator Barry Loudermilk, Larry Mrozinski, and Tricia Pridemore.
And then there’s former representative Bob Barr, whom you may remember from the Republican Revolution of 1994 . . . or as one of the House managers of the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 . . . or as the Libertarian party’s presidential candidate in 2008.
The good news is that whatever you think about the major issues of the day, at some point in the past two decades, Bob Barr agreed with you. The bad news is he may set a record for the most pieces of legislation a congressman voted for and then later renounced.
A former U.S. Attorney, Barr in his early career was a staunch supporter of the War on Drugs. In 1998 Congressman Barr passed an amendment to the D.C. appropriations bill that prohibited the District from conducting a ballot initiative on the legalization of marijuana or reducing the penalties for its use.
Then in 2002, Barr lost his seat in a hard-fought Republican primary after Democrat-managed redistricting. By 2007 he had changed his thinking on drugs so dramatically that he became a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project, and one of his efforts was to repeal the amendment that was named after him.
Then there’s marriage. In May 1996 Barr introduced the Defense of Marriage Act, barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Bill Clinton signed it into law later that year. Twelve years later, addressing the Libertarian national convention, Barr said: “The Defense of Marriage Act — in so far as it provided the federal government a club to club down the rights of law-abiding American citizens — has been abused, misused and should be repealed, and I will work to repeal that.”
Then earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Barr wrote on his Facebook page:
I personally believe marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman and, if it were on the ballot in Georgia, I’d vote that way. However, I have come to believe that it’s yet one more example of the federal government’s delving into areas that throughout our history have been best left to the states. I trust the judgement [sic] of the people of Georgia more than that of Washington, D.C.
Barr could argue that he’s always believed that marriage should be defined as one man and one woman, but states should make that determination, not the federal government. Yet his emphasis conveniently shifts depending upon whether his audience consists of socially conservative Republicans or pro-gay-marriage Libertarians.
Barr voted for the Patriot Act in 2001 but has spent much of the past decade denouncing its provisions. By 2003, he was accusing Attorney General John Ashcroft of “traveling the heartland to sow fear and to endeavor to limit public discourse over the most basic of our freedoms.” At the Libertarian convention in 2008, he said of the Patriot Act that he wanted to “drive a stake through its heart, burn it, shoot it, [and] burn it again.”
As that year’s election approached, he suggested that some of President George W. Bush’s counter-terror surveillance measures might have warranted impeachment. And by 2011 he was accusing congressional Republicans of acquiescing in “unconstitutional provisions of the PATRIOT Act, that permit the government to violate a citizen’s privacy and gain access to possibly their most private of records.”