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Bob Barr, the Master of a Curious Universe

"The curse is that people view him as being this bombastic character -- who really is more thoughtful and has a greater degree of moderation," he says.

If they think of him at all. Here's the thing: Many Americans don't even know Barr is running. He polls in the low single digits.

So why run? The third-party candidate is in an existential conundrum. All his efforts are devoted to achieving something that -- oh, let's say it, angry letter-writers be damned -- is never going to happen. Unless, of course, becoming president isn't really the goal. As Barr's wife, Jeri, points out, running for president is a powerful way to "change the nature of the debate and raise the issue in the public's eye."

And, as Towery points out, a presidential run is itself a great podium.

"It could enhance the things he enjoys doing -- speaking, pontificating, writing," he says.

You Can't Say He Panders

Bob Barr allows that a Bob Barr presidency is "unlikely," but he sketches his dream nonetheless. Bob Barr as president would not sign any bills appropriating money to the United Nations. Bob Barr as president would advocate against a Department of Education. And, because the United States is not a "charity," Bob Barr as president would attempt to stop the practices of hospitals offering medical care to illegal immigrants and schools educating illegal immigrants' children. Most of all, he'd shrink government and taxes.

"Whatever step would be required for Bob Barr as president to cut back by 10 percent the executive office of the president would be done," he says, with Barrlike formality.

"What is the position about the poor and helping the poor?" asks a woman in the studio audience when Barr makes an appearance on NPR's "Talk of the Nation." "If we have no government or little government, who's going to administrate over these different programs? Let's say food stamps. . . . What is the view on things like that?"

"Abolish them," Barr says.

Afterward, a reporter asks Barr if he thinks he was taken more seriously during his eight years in the House than he is now, as a presidential candidate for a fringe party with a tiny staff and paltry funds.

"It never enters my mind," he says, not breaking his stride. "I don't know. I don't care."

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