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Leaders must understand liberty, Barr says

Kaitlynn Riely | Monday, October 6, 2008

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis had it right, former congressman Bob Barr said, when he said the greatest danger to liberty lurks in the minds of men who lack understanding.

Barr, the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, spoke Friday at Washington Hall about the “vacuum of leadership” in the United States, a trend he believes manifests itself in the Democratic and Republican Party presidential tickets this fall.

To fulfill the job of being president of the United States, leaders must understand liberty, Barr said.

“America is not a military. America is not an economy. America is freedom, liberty and the job of the commander-in-chief should be simply and prudently to protect, defend and move forward freedom,” he said.

Americans and the media, Barr said, are setting the bar too low for their leaders. He referenced civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “the ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

Barr added: “These are not times of comfort and convenience. There are great challenges out there.”

Barr criticized the recent presidential and vice presidential debates, which neither he nor his running mate were invited to take part in, as a poor means of testing whether people are qualified for the presidency.

Barr asked the audience, which occupied most of the lower level of Washington Hall, to imagine, instead of Sen. Joe Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate and Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, if leaders like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln had been speaking.

If the players were changed, would they allow the debate to degenerate into “sound bite” ideas, Barr asked, with more focus on body language and “a wink here and a shrug there?”

Barr said he didn’t think so.

There seems to be a concerted effort, Barr said, to lower the level of discourse.

“We are denigrating the entire notion of what it means to be a political leader,” he said.

Appearing to allude to an answer Palin gave in Thursday’s debate, Barr said a member of the Notre Dame debate team would be “laughed off the stage” if he or she said she was not going to answer the questions from the moderator or the opponent, but instead would talk about what he or she believes is important.

The point of the debates is to see how a leader performs outside his or her “comfort zone,” a necessary component of being a leader, Barr said.

Americans need to question whether the candidates have the qualifications to be president, Barr said.

“We seem as a nation, by and large, to be satisfied with simply whether or not we feel comfortable with that person, whether that person can relate as we sit at the bar or stand at the sidelines watching our kids play hockey or soccer,” Barr said. “Don’t get me wrong. I like hockey.”

Americans need to judge their nation’s leaders by history’s standards, Barr said, not just by the candidate’s likeability.

“That’s what gets us into trouble sometimes,” he said. “We elect leaders that we feel we can sit down and have a brewski with.”

Barr spoke for half an hour and then took several questions from the audience. Barr was invited to speak on campus by the Notre Dame College Libertarians.

At the beginning of his speech, Barr joked around about ways he has been characterized in the media since he began his campaign for president.

Barr, a graduate of the University of Southern California, said he’s been described alternatively as grumpy, humorless and stocky, but recently, by Time magazine, as trim.

Stepping out from behind the podium and opening his jacket, Barr quipped:

“Is this the body of a stocky Trojan or a trim one?”

Barr, 59, represented the 7th District of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from 1995 to 2003. In 2006, Barr announced he had joined the Libertarian Party. He was nominated at the Libertarian National Convention in May.