By Betsy Rothstein - 10/02/08 05:40 PM EDT
Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr doesn’t have cameras following him day and night like the Republican and Democratic contenders.
The former GOP congressman from Georgia also has no security detail — it’s too pricey, he says.
What Barr does have, besides two sons and six grandchildren who are not working on his campaign, is a hectic schedule and a serious Starbucks addiction.
Barr, who served in Congress from 1995 to 2003, is no longer a Republican, but is unchanged in certain respects. He’s still a man with a brusque exterior and a shrewd sense of humor who likes to be in charge of his interview.
We met Wednesday afternoon inside an office suite at the Watergate Hotel that serves as the Libertarian Party’s headquarters and includes a beautiful view of the Potomac.
Barr made himself comfortable in an armchair and refused to stand for a picture, saying he was comfortable and would pose for a photo when the interview was over. In other words, when he says so, and after answering more than 20 questions.
Why are you running for president?
I believe in this country. I believe we’re going in the direction of a federal government that is far too powerful. None of the candidates want to reverse that trend and it needs to be reversed.
Do you believe you can win?
It is a long shot. It is possible. I don’t believe it will happen, but that doesn’t detract from the importance of what I’m doing. There are important things to accomplish even if we don’t win.
How has running for president changed your life logistically?
Logistically, it keeps me on the road an awful lot.
Is it exhausting?
It gets tiring, certainly, from time to time.
What do you do on the road to take care of yourself?
Drink a lot of Starbucks.
What is your drink of choice at Starbucks?
Five shots of espresso with steamed half-and-half three times a day.
Wow. Five shots in one drink?
Yes. I also like to try to find a cigar bar and sit down with local friends in whatever town I am. It’s getting harder and harder to find a good cigar bar — that’s also something we as Libertarians would change.
What do you believe ought to happen with Wall Street and the bailout?
Those who engaged in fraud need to be prosecuted. We need to turn more to the marketplace and less to the federal government.
What should Congress do this week?
Congress should go home.
Steps need to be taken outside the halls of Congress. If Congress wants to do anything, hold some hearings and find out what is going on.
So no bailout.
No bailout. I don’t think the sky is going to fall. I think the American people should be suspicious of a government that says the sky is going to fall.
How many homes do you own?
One, in Smyrna, Ga. It’s not Smear-nah, as someone claimed once. It’s Smurrr-na.
Do you always fly first-class?
No, a lot of times I fly just regular. If we can get upgrades, I love to fly upgrades. Today we didn’t [from Charleston, S.C.].
Which sitting member of Congress do you admire most and why?
Probably [Texas Republican Rep.] Ron Paul. He’s very consistent, extremely consistent in his voting record.
Who is your vice presidential running mate?
The convention [picked]. His name is Wayne Root. He’s a small-businessman from Las Vegas. I don’t get to choose.
Is he a good VP pick?
He’d make a very good VP. He’s a very good businessman.
Do you get out to Las Vegas much?
I get out there two to three times a year.
Do you gamble?
No. My wife enjoys going there because she loves to shop. The place I enjoy most is a Ritz-Carlton off the strip. They don’t have any slot machines at the hotel and you can get away from all that hubbub.
Where do you go to relax and get away from it all?
If you win, what will be your first act as president?
To order an immediate 10 percent cutback of the office of the president and then go to the Hill and ask them to do the same.
Who would be your secretary of State?
I would want someone with significant experience in foreign travel, foreign business — not someone who could see Russia from their back door.
Since you’re obviously referring to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, what do you think of her?
I’ve never met her. I can tell she has done a very good job, but I don’t think she has anywhere [near] the depth of experience to be vice president.
Was it irresponsible of Sen. McCain to pick her?
It was political. It generated more excitement in one day than McCain has been able to generate in two years.
President Carter had peanuts and Reagan had jellybeans. What would be your food of choice in the White House?
Starbucks, but I’ll bet you saw that coming.
What does your wife think of potentially being first lady?
She works for a living and vows that if she is the next first lady, she will continue working. She works at a social service agency in suburban Atlanta that helps keep women off welfare.
What are your thoughts on Sen. McCain?
I think McCain is a hypocrite. He claims he is for smaller government and that’s not the case.
And Sen. Obama?
Sen. Obama is more in the mold of a classic liberal. He’s not hypocritical.
Is Obama a better person, then?
I’m not saying he’s a better person, but he’s not hypocritical politically, as many Republicans are these days.
Are you disappointed in the Republican Party you were a part of in Congress?
Very disappointed, not only in the Republican Party but Congress generally. This Congress has allowed the president to walk all over it. Congress sits back and says, “Thank you sir, may I have another, sir?”
What has been the most touching moment for you on the campaign trail?
Haven’t had any touching moments. I think politicians make that kind of stuff up, to be honest with you.
There is an urban legend about you that has been going around Capitol Hill for years that you have some African-American ethnicity in you. Any truth to it?
No. That came up one time during the ’92 race when somebody called in and claimed I had a Columbian background and had changed my name to disguise my roots. I take all that stuff with a grain of salt.
You’re not surprised.
No, nothing would surprise me in politics.
To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.