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Honest Liberal Defends Bob Barr

There are two kinds of liberals – one honest, one not-so-honest. An example of the former is Nat Hentoff, who has come to the defense of one of the most conservative members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia. Chances are you?ve heard of Barr; he was selected as one of the managers of the House impeachment case against President Clinton. He has also attracted notoriety for having spoken to a group that has been widely denounced in the news media as racist.

That provided the occasion for liberal New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis to write a column denouncing Barr. Lewis said that Barr, by speaking to the group called the Council of Conservative Citizens, had done “something more deplorable than anything President Clinton has done.” Lewis said the council was a “virulent racist group.”

Regardless of how racist it actually is, there was nothing in what Barr said to the group that could remotely be construed as racist. That didn?t matter to Lewis, who was intent on diverting attention away from President Clinton?s scandalous personal behavior. He used an old tactic – guilt by association. It turns out that Congressman Barr didn?t know what its racial views were when he spoke to the group. He thought it was just another mainstream conservative organization. When he found out about its views, he quickly disassociated himself from it.

None of that mattered to Lewis, a leftist ideologue. But it did matter to Nat Hentoff, a liberal columnist who investigates matters before writing about them, and who took the time to look into Barr?s background. What he found was that Barr was a civil libertarian, as well as a conservative. Hentoff found it indefensible that Lewis had attacked Barr without mentioning his battles in the Congress on behalf of individual rights. Barr, for example, had been the only member of the House to oppose what he called the Clinton-FBI push for the authority to use roving wiretaps. These enable law enforcement, on the basis of a single warrant, to tap several telephones in one house, home or business and which are used by or near one person. Barr said the FBI wasn?t entitled to that kind of power, putting him in the same camp as the ACLU. For some of the same reasons, Barr opposes plans for a national I.D. card and a national health identification code for every American.

Hentoff commented, “Minimal 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 reporting.”

But Lewis isn?t the only columnist guilty of that flawed approach. Bob Herbert followed in the New York Times with his own column about Barr and Senator Lott appearing before the council. We can?t prove that the White House is behind these kinds of attacks, but it wouldn?t be surprising. They will do anything to take the spotlight off President Clinton?s crimes.