Washington Post, Saturday, January 9, 1999, page A17
of the politics of personal destruction, Anthony Lewis notes in
the New York Times that Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), having spoken "to
a virulently racist group," has done "something more
deplorable than anything President Clinton has done."
of this invidious comparison, shall we start with the president's
cutting down the right to habeas corpus to one year and his law
that denies aliens, including resident aliens, the right to see
the evidence against them before they are deported? I don't
think Bob Barr quite qualifies to be in Clinton's "deplorable"
with Lewis, a horde of independent prosecutorial journalists have
convicted Barr of racism because he made a speech last June to
the Council of Conservative Citizens in South Carolina.
In none of the broadsides I have read or heard has there been
any mention of Barr's civil liberties record. Of course,
the fact that he has been allied with the ACLU on a number of
privacy issues might be confusing in an indictment of Barr.
It's like saying the devil regularly attends vespers services.
research in the National Journal, with the ACLU or on the Internet
would disclose Barr's battles on behalf of civil liberties.
But most of his assailants appear to repeat only what they read,
written by each other, in the newspapers. It's called virtual
was the sole voice on the floor of the House to oppose the Clinton-FBI
push for roving wiretaps that - on the basis of a single warrant
- would allow law enforcement agencies to tap all phones in any
home or business used by, or near, a targeted person.
acts on the principle that "I am not willing to sacrifice
constitutional protections in order to give federal law enforcement
officials more power they don't need."
years ago, Barr successfully limited governmental access - without
court order - to commercial and private business records.
and the ACLU are consistently sensitive to government abuse of
omnivorous databases. Barr strenuously opposes a national
identification card. ("I do not believe Americans are
interested in giving the federal government unprecedented power
to track and identify them," he said.)
the plan to create a "unique health identifier" for
every American, Barr points out that this would give public health
officials "a sweeping mandate to create a personal code to
track the most intimate and private details of every American's
such a card would indeed be valuable when someone is suddenly
hospitalized, the information it contained could also find its
way to employers and insurance companies.
at least sends up useful warning signals concerning privacy.
He is also opposed to a government mandate that, he claims, will
require, by 2002, that "anyone receiving welfare benefits
will have to carry an electronic debit card which will allow the
government to track their expenditures."
Barr's now-infamous speech before the Council of Conservative
Citizens, he told that group in a Dec. 15 letter that the materials
he received from it before his talk contained no references to
their "repugnant racial issues ... If I had been aware white
supremacists' views occupied any place in the council's philosophy,
I would never have agreed to speak."
"I was not aware that your group opposed interracial
marriage or argued in favor of the absurd view that Abraham Lincoln
was elected by 'communists and socialists' when I accepted the
invitation to speak."
believe him? I have only spoken to Barr once, on the phone,
so I can't sign an affidavit as to his unalloyed veracity.
But the swarm of vigilantes who - because of his politics - attacked
Barr's appearance that day reminded me of a lesson I learned long
ago from a battle-scarred reporter:
the facts can be right - up to a point - in a story. But
if you leave out other information that casts that story in a
significantly different light, you are likely to do a lot of damage."
of the journalists who condemn zealotry should look in the mirror.