Republican Barr offers his take on civil liberties Bob Barr knows what you’re thinking: It seems incongruous that a red-meat conservative like him would be working as a consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union. Conservative Bob Barr will speak at the ICLU annual dinner on Oct. 9. He is, after all, the former congressman who authored the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He is a National Rifle Association board member. And he’s still on the warpath against Bill Clinton, roughly six years after he helped lead the Republican effort to impeach the former president over the Lewinsky scandal. His new book is The Meaning of Is: The Squandered Impeachment and Wasted Legacy of William Jefferson Clinton.
But as Barr will tell you, in this interview and when he delivers the keynote speech at the ICLU’s annual dinner Oct. 9, civil liberties are the bedrock of true conservatism. Government should be neither too big nor too powerful.
“I wish more of my conservative colleagues understood that,” he said in a telephone interview. “Very few of them seem to.”
Barr said his work with the ACLU really began as a freshman congressman in 1995 on issues such as the anti-terrorism act proposed following the Oklahoma City bombing and issues that came before the House Judiciary Committee.
These days, his main focus is the Patriot Act, something he voted for but says he wouldn’t do again.
“I, certainly, am not arguing that the government shouldn’t, in limited circumstances where it can justify it, have extraordinary powers,” Barr said. “But not as a matter of course, and not without justifying it and not without having to answer before a court.”
He praises the ACLU for educating people about the contents of the Patriot Act, an effort that has resulted in more than 300 local governments around the country going on record either against the law or in favor of some limitations.
Give Barr a chance and he’s happy to do his own educating. “Law enforcement did largely have powers to do things that it now can do under the Patriot Act,” he said. “Prior to the Patriot Act, it simply had to justify them. Their use was very limited, but they did have the power they needed. With regard to [suspected Sept. 11 hijacker Zacharias] Moussaoui, the government could have applied for a warrant to gain access to his computer and they almost certainly would have been allowed to. But they made a bad decision not to.
“Yet the administration says we couldn’t have done that before the Patriot Act and therefore we have to have this power. And if anybody supports limiting that power, they’re helping the terrorists. It’s important for the public to understand that that’s not the case.”
WHAT: Bob Barr: “A Conservative Approach to Privacy Rights” Indiana Civil Liberties Union’s 2004 annual dinner WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 9 6:45 p.m. (reception); 8 p.m. (dinner) WHERE: Crown Plaza Hotel, Union Station TICKETS: $75 dinner; $150 reception and dinner ALSO SATURDAY: The ICLU will hold its second annual student and membership conference, a day-long event featuring discussions on the issues of gay rights and marriage, religion and public policy, and balancing national security and civil liberties. The conference, which runs from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., costs $35. Note that several student scholarships are available, and interested students should contact Jackie Ayers, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 635-4059, ext. 225. General info: 317-635-4059