Political Junkie: Bob Barr's Presidential Bid
LYNN NEARY, host:
This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary sitting in this week for Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio at the Newseum, Washington, D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and the news business.
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NEARY: Great to be here with everybody. A new poll showed that Barack Obama didn't get that bump from his overseas trip the Democrats had hoped for and the Republicans feared. And veteran Republican Senator Ted Stevens is indicted on seven felony counts.
It's Wednesday. That means it's time for our weekly visit with the Political Junkie.
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NPR political editor, Ken Rudin, joins us every Wednesday to talk about the presidential campaign and other political news. This week, a new poll shows McCain leading among likely voters. Buzz bills over Obama's beef choices, and Michigan voters go to the polls next week. And shortly, Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr will join us. He'll be taking your questions about his race for the White House. And later, NPR's ombudsman joins us.
But first, it's our political junkie, Ken Rudin. He's with us here at the Newseum. It's so good to have you with us, as always.
KEN RUDIN: Hi, Lynn.
NEARY: And you have a trivia question for us.
RUDIN: As always. Right. Well, you know, Barack Obama, in 2004, he was the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention, and of course, four years later, he is the presidential nominee. Who was the last keynote speaker at the National Convention who wound up on the ticket?
NEARY: If anybody knows that one, you really deserve a prize, I think. So if you do know, the number is 800-989-8255. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will take answers from the audience here at the Newseum, as well. Let's hear that question just one more time.
RUDIN: OK. Barack Obama was the keynote speaker in 2004. He's a presidential nominee in 2008. Who was the last keynote speaker who made it onto a national ticket?
NEARY: I have no idea.
NEARY: All right. Let's start with Senator Stevens. He was indicted yesterday on seven counts of failing to disclose thousands of dollars and services that he received from a company that helped him to renovate his house in Alaska. This was coming for a long time.
RUDIN: He had been under investigation for a long time. There had been an ethics circus going on in Alaska. Several members of the Alaska State Legislature have been indicted and convicted, and basically it comes to this. This oil company, oil company called VECO, V-E-C-O, that has steered money towards many members of the Alaska State Legislature. And the head of VECO, Bill Allen, is accused of helping renovate Ted Stevens' home.
I mean, Ted Stevens, when the Republicans were in the majority and even when they're in the minority, Stevens is one of the most powerful members of the Senate. He's been there since 1968, longer than any other Republican in the history of the Senate, and he got these, you know, housing renovations to his own house, and it took - basically, it took him down. He had been in trouble. The polls show - reflected the fact that he had been under investigation, but the indictment may be even worse trouble for him.
NEARY: But you said it took him down. But he is planning to fight this, he says.
RUDIN: He's planning to fight it. He said he's not guilty. He said, basically, it's not a question of bribes and not accused of taking a bribe with - basically, the actual charge is he failed to officially, on his Senate forms, talk about the aid he got from the company. And according to Senate rules, you have to file for that. So it's a question of not filling out the forms correctly, according to Ted Stevens.
NEARY: So he's got a tough fight now.
RUDIN: He has a tough fight. I mean, he has six candidates running against him in the August 26th primary, none of whom are likely to beat him, but he has a very strong Democratic opponent, Mark Begich, a very popular mayor of Anchorage, Alaska and a state - now the Democrats have not won a Senate seat there since 1974. But again - and every time that Stevens has run, he usually wins by 70, 80 percent. They're always landslides. But the Republicans are very nervous about this.
RUDIN: They're already likely to lose at least four Senate seats. Alaska could be - could join that list.
NEARY: Yeah. Also, implications for the Republican energy policy.
RUDIN: Well, that's true. I mean - but obviously, you know, having been a chairman of the Appropriations Committee when the Republicans were in control, he also co-chaired the Commerce Committee. He is one of the leading appropriators from the Congress. He is very strong on oil energy. He has a big say in what gets done in Alaska. He's been pushing for the drilling in Alaska for years, all for not. But again, you know, with the price of gas approaching five dollars, you would expect Stevens to have a big say in that policy.
NEARY: All right. Let's move on to the presidential election. A U.S.A. Today/Gallup Poll shows that Senator Obama didn't get that bump in the polls as some thought he might have and that I'm sure he hoped he would. Why? What do you - how do you explain that?
RUDIN: Well, the one thing to explain is that the polls have been all over the map all year long. The most perfect example is the day of the New Hampshire primary when everybody had Barack Obama winning big, and Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary. Even on the - you know, even as they were voting, we thought it was going to happen. So the polls have been off.
Clearly, Barack Obama perhaps may be - you know, the adulation he got in Germany with 200,000 people seeing him in Berlin, that didn't translate back home. And I suspect that - because basically, John McCain has not had a good couple of months. He's had gaps in his campaign and his campaign has stumbled. He's had bad photo-ops and things like this, bad opportunities to make news. But at the same time, the voters clearly do not understand or know or feel comfortable with Barack Obama, and that's why the race is still relatively close.
But again, this is still July approaching August. We still have a long time to go before the election. In 1988, for example, in the middle of August, Michael Dukakis had a 17-point lead over Vice President George Bush, and of course, there was never a President Dukakis.
NEARY: Right. And there's a poll that's showing that likely voters - and we should explain what we mean by that - that he's up in the poll with - McCain is up in the poll with likely vote.
RUDIN: Right. And these are people who are more likely to turn out. The lead that Barack Obama has in the Gallup Poll is among registered voters, and that's gone up to six points today. But among likely voters, most likely to turn out, McCain has that lead. But again, Barack Obama still has several months. Want to have a great convention, which he hopes to have and which he had in 2004, to make this case to the electorate. Because we saw at the end, with the final primaries against Hillary Clinton, more and more Democratic voters had doubts about Barack Obama, and that's reflected in the polls today.
NEARY: All right. We have some emails here with answers to the trivia question. Let's see if any of these people are right. From Scott in Oklahoma City, William Jennings Bryan.
RUDIN: Well, no. He did give - get that famous "Cross of Gold" speech. Lynn, you covered that in 1896.
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Remember, it was a great speech. But no, there's something far more...
NEARY: I'm not that old.
RUDIN: No, but something far more recent than that.
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NEARY: OK. Bill Clinton. From Pam, this is from Pam.
RUDIN: Well, Bill Clinton didn't give the keynote speech, but in 1988, he gave a speech nominating Michael Dukakis, and the speech went on so long that the famous line is when he said, "and in conclusion," the audience erupted into applause. I mean, it went on forever. But it was not the keynote speech.
NEARY: All right. From Greg in Geneva, Illinois. The answer is Al Gore.
RUDIN: Al Gore, no. He never gave a keynote speech. I think the best thing that Al Gore ever did at a convention was he kissed Tipper Gore for about 20 minutes. I think that's still going on today. But no, he was never the keynote speaker.
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NEARY: Let's see if we've got somebody on the line there that might take a guess. Somebody on the line, or did I disconnect that? All right, we don't have anybody on the line there.
Let's talk about vice presidential possibilities. Last week, I know you and Neal talked about John McCain's possible pick for VP. What about Obama?
RUDIN: Well, apparently, if you go by media reports, and you know, you should never the trust the media, there have been at least three names allegedly on Barack Obama's short list. It's Tim Kaine, the new governor of Virginia. It's Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and the Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Joe Biden hasn't - actually, he was one of the rivals to Barack Obama during the campaign, during the presidential campaign. He's been in the Senate since 1973. He brings Obama strong credentials on foreign policy, things like that. The problem with Biden is that he is unpredictable. He often speaks his mind. He often says things that get him in trouble. And you know, the old maxim of a vice president is, do no harm.
Evan Bayh is probably less of a Washington insider even though he's a two-term senator from Indiana. He was two-term governor of Indiana, former secretary of state there. And if the Midwest is in play, and I guess that may be the region you most want to go after, it's the Midwest. But Evan Bayh is kind of colorless. And you know - but of course, you know, Barack Obama, with his magnetic personality, may have all the excitement on a ticket you need. But I guess you could say Evan Bayh is a bit dull.
Tim Kaine apparently has given - has been vetted by the Obama campaign, has given his financial records over to the campaign. You know, obviously, what you want to do, you don't want to be surprised. When Richard Nixon picked Spiro Agnew in 1968, they didn't know that Agnew was taking bribes as governor of Maryland, you know, under the table, which is remarkable.
RUDIN: When McGovern picked Thomas Eagleton in 1972, he had no idea about the electric shock therapy. So there are a lot of secret - and even Geraldine Ferraro, it's heralded as that pick was, there were lot of questions about her husband and his real estate deals.
NEARY: That's right.
RUDIN: So, you didn't want to - you don't want to be surprised.
NEARY: You don't want controversy. That's the biggest thing.
RUDIN: Right. Exactly. Do no harm.
NEARY: Exactly. I think we're going to run out of time if we don't go to the phones and see if anybody knows the answer to your trivia question at this point. Let us go to John in Buffalo. It seemed to be him. John, are you there?
JOHN (Caller): Yeah, I think it was Alvin Barkley in 1948.
RUDIN: That is the correct answer!
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RUDIN: And not only that, what's remarkable about that is that Alvin Barkley was the keynote speaker of '48 and the vice presidential pick in 1948. Both happened at the same convention. Back then, they used to name vice presidents and presidents at conventions. Now, it's just a formality. But Alvin Barkley is the correct answer.
NEARY: All right, John. Good for you. I didn't think anybody was going to get that one, to be honest with you.
JOHN: I'm a political buff.
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RUDIN: John gets the item(ph) and a love seat.
NEARY: All right, great.
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NEARY: Thanks so much for calling, John.
JOHN: Thank you.
NEARY: All right. Let's just go to one more topic before we have to take a short break. Voters go to the polls in Michigan. It's a primary election for a highly contested Congressional seat. There's some controversy surrounding this race. Tell us about it.
RUDIN: Well, Caroline Cheeks Kilpatrick is a six-term member of Congress who is the chairman of the - chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus. Her son happens to be the very unpopular mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick. And basically, it - the challenge that she's facing in next Tuesday's primary is not anything she has done or not any of our voting record, but the fact that she defends her son completely. We saw the spectacle of Jesse Jackson, Jr. dissing his father during the Obama-suggested surgery.
NEARY: Mother's are more loyal, I guess.
RUDIN: Exactly. But - and Nancy Pelosi was in the district saying, look, that's exactly what mothers do. But the whole issue is her defense of her son, who is the mayor of Detroit.
NEARY: OK. And just very quickly, we should mention that a health issue came up with John McCain this week. And I just want you to touch on that real quick.
RUDIN: That's right. He had a biopsy. There was a spot on his face, the size of - it was described as a small coin. They checked it out at the Mayo Clinic. No cancer was shown. He's had four malignant melanomas in the past, including a very serious operation in 2000 that removed his lymph nodes. But no cancer was shown in this last episode.
NEARY: NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin is going to stay with us. And coming up, the Libertarian Party has already chosen their presidential nominee. He's here with us today. Bob Barr is up with us next at the Knight Studio in the Newseum. You can send us an email to email@example.com. I'm Lynn Neary. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.
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NEARY: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary broadcasting live from the Knight Studio inside the Newseum in Washington, D.C. You're listening to another edition of the Political Junkie. I'm here with NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin.
For eight years, Bob Barr served in the United States Congress as a Republican representative from Georgia. Now, he's making a third party run for the White House. He's the Libertarian nominee for president. Bob Barr joins us in the Knight Studio here at the Newseum. So good to have you with us.
Former Representative BOB BARR (Libertarian, Georgia; 2008 Libertarian Presidential Nominee): It's great to with you all. Thank you.
NEARY: And if you have any questions for Mr. Barr about his positions on the war, the economy or social issues, give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255, and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read what other listeners have to say at our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.
Congressman Barr, you were considered one of the most conservative members of Congress during your time there in the late '90s and the early 2000s. You introduced the 1996 Defensive Marriage Act, for example. But what is it about the Republican Party now that made you decide to leave it and become a Libertarian?
Former Rep. BARR: How many hours do we have today? As some of us older folks remember, years ago when a fellow named Ronald Reagan was asked a similar question about why he left the Democrat Party and at the time joined the Republican Party, he said he didn't leave the Democrat Party, the Democrat Party left him. And that's very much how I feel, and a lot of sort of Libertarian-leaning Republicans feel that the new Republican Party - the Republican Party of this early 21st century - has veered so sharply from its fiscal conservancy roots, from its respect for individual liberty and its fighting for smaller government.
It's veered so sharply from all of those core issues that we've been left far behind, those of us that used to be with the party but believed in smaller government and individual liberty. So I've formally left the Republican Party after a number of years of watching it move toward bigger government, more costly government, more powerful government.
NEARY: Was there a tipping point? Was there...
Former Rep. BARR: I think probably more than anything else, a couple of areas that in years passed would have remained so esoteric that nobody would- that nobody would really pay attention to them but have become very important issues, sort of defining issues. One is the administration's disrespect for the great writ, the writ of habeas corpus, believing it can hold individuals, including American citizens, indefinitely, without granting them access to the court, one of the fundamental underpinnings of liberty in our country. And secondly, the rampant spying on American citizens under the guise of gathering foreign intelligence without warrants. That has done great harm to the very notion of privacy in our country.
NEARY: But you did vote for the Patriot Act, did you not?
Former Rep. BARR: Yes. Which...
NEARY: Which increased the power of the government to eavesdrop on citizens. And that doesn't seem to...
Former Rep. BARR: No. It - the Patriot Act did not deal with increased surveillance of Americans. The administration has done that quite separate from the Patriot Act. I did vote for the Patriot Act, as a number of folks did. At the time, after working on it to get the administration to scale some of its provisions back, they also made a number of promises to us that I guess a number of us naively believed, that when the president or the attorney general tells you something, you know, you can sort of believe it.
In every instance in which they had assured us, for example, that the act would not be expanded, that it would not be abused, that it would not be used for non-terrorism cases, those sorts of things, in every instance they went back on those assurances that they'd given us. So I basically spent the last five years since leaving the Congress working with diverse groups such as the ACLU, the American Conservative Union and others, working to try and scale back the Patriot Act.
NEARY: Congressman Bob Barr is with us today. He is the presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party. If you'd like to ask him a question, the number is 800-989-8255. And we're going to take a call now from Craig who is calling from Chicago. Hi, Craig.
CRAIG (Caller): Thanks for taking my call.
NEARY: Go ahead.
CRAIG: I had a question. I go back and forth with some of my Libertarian friends about - I have sort of a moral issue about Libertarianism in terms of letting the market decide things. My question is, without - if you let the market decide and take care of things, for example, when it comes to, maybe, like Enron, sure, Enron, those guys were caught and punished, but not before all of these people lost their life savings. So if you have - if these companies are regulated, then supposedly they're supposed to stop that from happening so these people don't lose their market - don't lose their savings before the bad guys are caught. So - and maybe I'm not understanding Libertarianism correctly. So maybe you could explain that.
NEARY: You want a little more explanation of what Libertarianism stands for and...
CRAIG: In terms of, like, letting the market decide things. To me, that seems sort of - I have a moral problem with that in that businesses don't necessarily make the moral choice, and showing Enron as an example.
NEARY: All right, great. Congressman Barr.
CRAIG: Do that make sense?
Former Rep. BARR: I think one mistake that some folks make is to equate regulation with the moral issue or to believe that simply because an industry or sector of the economy is regulated, somehow that's good. One can look at a whole range of sectors of our economy or industries that are heavily regulated and I don't think anybody could walk away from seeing the history of how those sectors have behaved, saying, oh, gee, this has not caused problems.
A perfect example is the mortgage crisis that we find ourselves in right now. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and federal institutions that let mortgages are already very highly regulated. Of course, they're about to be more regulated. But the fact of the matter is, even if you have a regulated industry, if the taxpayers are somehow on the line to guarantee losses or risks, then what do you have? You have losses and bad risks.
We also have, and Libertarians certainly believe in the power of using the courts, and in cases where fraud is committed, for example, the criminal law is to protect those who have a fraud or other illegal acts committed against them and their savings or resources where money is taken away. In the case of Enron and a number of other recent examples of corporate misdeeds, the problem has been not that there isn't regulation, there's more than enough regulation. But the government has failed in its responsibility of timely and effectively using the power of the criminal laws to protect people's savings and investments.
NEARY: Ken, did you want to jump in here?
RUDIN: A quick question. Congressman, we spent a lot of time talking about Barack Obama's flip-flops and John McCain's flip-flops. When you were in Congress, as Lynn said, very conservative Republican on issues of abortion, pro-life, anti-abortion. You said - we said that you supported the Patriot Act, you opposed gay marriage, you supported tough drug laws, and you supported the war in Iraq. Now, are those still your views and is that - do you see that as the views of the Libertarian party?
Former Rep. BARR: Of course, the Libertarian party, like the Republican Party and Democrat Party, is a very large and very diverse party. You'll find, for example, a number of Libertarians that are pro-life, libertarians like myself. You'll find a number of Libertarians like myself that believe that some - many of the issues that you ticked off there should be and should remain issues that people at the state level and then their community should decide, not the federal government.
For example, on the issue of marriage, even though I am personally opposed to same-sex marriage, I believe that if that is what people in a particular state - and this ought to be a status, you're not the federal government dictating anything - but the people in a particular state, Massachusetts, California. If my state of Georgia, which has not recognize same-sex marriages, if people of Georgia decide to, then I think that ought to be respected by the other states and by the federal government.
RUDIN: But you're running for president of the United States, so is that a national position that you're taking on these issues, or it's just state-by-state issues?
Former Rep. BARR: Well, the federal government ought not to be involved in dictating policy in these areas. It ought to be up to the people of the states. And if the people of the states, for example, decide that they wish to recognize and allow medicinal marijuana, I believe, and most Libertarians, I dare say, believe that the federal government ought not to be able to come in with the heavy hand or hammer of federal prosecution and override the decision that the people of the state have made.
NEARY: All right. Let's go to Veronica who is standing by in the audience. Veronica.
VERONICA (Audience Member): Hi. I'm Veronica Forewood(ph) from Baltimore, Maryland. It's my understanding that Libertarians want little or no government. I've even heard some go as far as to say all they want government to do is to keep them safe. If this is true, what is the position about the poor and helping the poor? If we have no government or little government, who's going to administrate over these different programs? Let's say food stamps, let's use that for an example. How would you deal - what is the view on things like that?
Former Rep. BARR: Abolish them. The federal - what - the problem that we as Libertarians have is the fact that where the government steps in and takes money from one person by threat of force, in other words, if you don't pay us these moneys that we believe are owed us through our tax system, we're going to put you in jail. So the government takes money by threat of force from the citizenry and then uses it to help other people that are among the favorite class, that have more votes or can go to the Congress or whatnot.
Our country, for many, many decades, took much better care of those less fortunate in our society than currently, where you have so much federal government, state government resources, which ultimately come from the tax payers devoted to it. Private charities, private institutions, private businesses are those that we believe are more appropriate and actually do a better and more efficient job of delivering services to those less fortunate than having the federal government, with its trillion dollar...
NEARY: Do you see no role at all for the federal government, at all, in helping the poor or in social programs?
Former Rep. BARR: No, basically, this is why we have - now we just kicked up the national debt ceiling to 10.6...
NEARY: It's not the only reason?
Former Rep. BARR: Pardon?
NEARY: It's not the only reason.
Former Rep. BARR: There's a lot - there's a lot or reasons on that. I don't think I said it's the only reason but this certainly is a reason. The 400 million dollars a day that we're spending in the occupation of Iraq is another. But just think of what people could be doing to help others or to, you know, provide better or more productive services in their community, better, more control over local education if they weren't having to spend and give to the federal government.
Let's just take one agency, 70 billion dollars or so, to the Department of Education. If we weren't spending that amount of money with the federal bureaucracies and on foreign misadventures, shall we say, that would create a whole range of opportunities to really create some productive - productive relationships in society, in our communities.
NEARY: It's interesting, because it gets to the - this question really sort of gets to the heart of a lot about what the Libertarian Party is about and its relationship to government. And I - I guess my question is, you seem to have a great deal of faith, then, in the private sector and private individuals that they would really come to the fore and take care of these massive social problems we have.
Former Rep. BARR: They have - they have historically in our country. If you go back before the federal government, for example, became very heavily involved in social services and public works programs, going back to the late 1920s with Republicans like Herbert Hoover, for example, you can see that we did not have these - many of these problems that we currently have.
Now people in different communities may decide that they want to have certain types of social services agencies, and for so long, for example, as we have a taxation system as we currently have, which we'd like to change, but as long as we have the current system, it certainly make sense to provide incentives for individuals, local governments to provide tax - tax benefits, for example, to donations, to social services agencies.
NEARY: We're talking with Congressman Bob Barr, and you are listening to Talk Of The Nation from NPR News. All right, we're going to take another call now from Mike. And Mike is calling from Philadelphia. Hi, Mike. Are you there, Mike?
MIKE (Caller): Yeah, yeah, hi. I'm here. How are doing?
NEARY: Good. Go ahead.
MIKE: I just had a question for Congressman Barr. How do you propose - I guess, stage rights is huge, you know, plank in the platform of the Libertarian politics. I just wanted to know, how do you want to collect income tax or collect some sort of tax from the people to support government programs, or do you want to abolish all government programs who are, you know, the people that need it the most?
Former Rep. BARR: First of all, I certainly, as a Libertarian, and somebody who is a member of the Libertarian Party, as opposed to a debating society, recognize that these - the transition, once we obtain power, if I win the election, for example, it's going to take a period of time to begin the process of changing over or evolving many of these federal programs back to the states and the people. It's not going to happen overnight, certainly.
But there - there certainly would be an awful lot of opportunities to begin working with the Congress. If I were elected president November 4th, certainly members of Congress that are Republican and members of Congress that are Democrat would sit up and take notice and would recognize that something very different has happened here in terms of the view of people, what they want their federal government to be doing differently, to begin, at long last, spending less rather than continuing to raise the national debt ceiling every time you turn around, or sending an ever-increasing current year budget, which now stands at over 3.1 trillion dollars, to the Congress.
NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for your call, Mike. We're going to take another call. We're going to go to Chesher(ph), I think it is, in Connecticut. Hi, Chesher.
MIKE (Caller): Hi.
NEARY: Mike. Oh, it's Mike. I'm sorry, in Cheshire, Connecticut. Go ahead.
MIKE: That's OK. You know, Mr. Barr, I've heard you talk today about - it's obvious that you have, you know, a lot of disdain for the role of the federal government. But to me, there are obvious situations, Katrina being an example, perhaps presently the need to develop a national sort of initiative to develop new energy. So the government needs to obviously play a role. The state governments, you know, aren't able to do that themselves. I mean, in World War II, strike three is an example where when confident people are put in positions when something needs to be done, we did a fantastic job during World War II in coordinating all these efforts.
I just would like to know what you think about, you know, the fact that this kind of anti-government rhetoric has real repercussions in people's lives, and it had huge repercussions for those people down in New Orleans, the fact that the government put all these cronies and FEMA, instead of people who know what they were doing. So do you ever think about that, that this rhetoric, this anti-government rhetoric actually has real implications in the lives of real people?
Former Rep. BARR: I have no idea what you're talking about because the fact that tens of billions of dollars, U.S. taxpayer dollars, were wasted as the government mandated a government-directed effort in Hurricane Katrina, certainly it would seem to me to indicate that probably the least efficient method of bringing relief to individuals on at least a large as happened in Katrina is the government.
As a matter of fact, if you study what happened down in Katrina, in New Orleans, in the aftermath and continuing even to this day to address the problems arising from the hurricane tragedy nearly three years ago, you'll find, I suspect, that those instances in which people were actually demonstrably helped were not those that were mandated or controlled by the government but were those that were in the hands of private businesses and private charities. It's much more efficient.
NEARY: Congressman Barr, thanks so much for being with us today.
Former Rep. BARR: Thank you.
NEARY: Former Republican Congressman Bob Barr is the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee. He joined us here at the Newseum. And coming up, NPR's Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, joins us. I'm Lynn Neary. It's Talk Of The Nation from NPR News.
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