By Dana Milbank
Thursday, September 11, 2008
There's no putting lipstick on this pig.
Ron Paul, the libertarian gadfly who launched a mass movement in his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination, convened a third-party unity event at the National Press Club yesterday to bring Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and Chuck Baldwin together into one big, happy family of independent presidential candidates.
But as soon as Paul reached out to apply the Revlon to the snout, Barr went hog-wild, turning the gathering into a barnyard brawl.
"I'm very pleased that, uh, we have some special guests here," Paul told a crowded ballroom at the press club. "Three of the candidates are here with me . . . and I understand Bob Barr is on his way or, uh, will be here shortly."
Well, not exactly. Barr, the Libertarian Party candidate for president, never showed for the unity event, instead having an aide hand out notices at the door announcing that he would be making a "major campaign announcement" at a rival news conference in the same place two hours later. His major announcement: that Ron Paul could get lost.
"I'm not interested in third parties getting the most possible votes," Barr told the cameras. "I'm interested in Bob Barr as the nominee for the Libertarian Party getting the most possible votes." In a further insult, Barr said he would permit the vastly more popular Paul to be his vice presidential running mate.
Paul partisans were appalled. "I will be withdrawing my endorsement," a man identifying himself as an "independent blogger" declared from the audience.
"Me, too!" called out another.
"I was gonna vote for the guy, but I think he's about as arrogant as George Bush," proclaimed a third.
Thus did the short-lived third-party unity movement of 2008 go in the trough.
It was an opportunity squandered, for the two major parties were busy yesterday demonstrating why an alternative to Democrats and Republicans is so desperately needed.
The bipartisan display of malfeasance began at 10 a.m. at the federal courthouse a few blocks from the Capitol, where Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), a longtime lord of the Appropriations Committee, was trying to get a judge to throw out his indictment on seven corruption-related counts. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected the senator's request, clearing the way for a trial the week after next.
At the same time Stevens's lawyers were in court, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), the jolly chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, was a few blocks away in the Capitol admitting that he owes money to the IRS because he failed to report years of rental income on his beach villa in the Dominican Republic.
The two parties' presidential candidates, meanwhile, were debating the great issues of the day. John McCain's campaign was trying to suggest, without basis, that Obama had been trying to demean McCain running mate Sarah Palin when he voiced the old cliche on Tuesday that "you can put lipstick on a pig -- it's still a pig." The Obama campaign, for its part, was distributing an ABC News report that Palin had tried to fire the town librarian when she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.
It was more evidence, as The Post's Dan Balz put it Wednesday in his Web column, that, "rather than finding ways to bring about real reconciliation, the campaign is fostering the further polarization of the country." That would seem to present an opening for the third parties -- if they could stop squabbling among themselves.
"The more, the merrier," Paul said of his band of candidates, many of whom had already been rejected by the two major parties. McKinney had lost her House seat after she struck a Capitol Police officer with her cellphone. Nader has already made two unsuccessful runs for the presidency. Barr lost his House seat in a Republican primary before becoming a dupe in the "Borat" movie. And Paul, serving as a convener rather than a candidate, has failed as both a Republican and Libertarian presidential candidate.
Paul, who refused a last-minute plea from former senator Phil Gramm to endorse McCain, got the independent candidates to agree to a four-point policy statement. In exchange, he said voters should support any one of them as a way to strengthen the clout of third parties -- though he himself remains a Republican candidate for reelection to Congress. "I want to thank the candidates for showing," he said in the ballroom. "We'll have to wait and see when Bob shows up."
It turned out to be a long wait. Nader assured the audience that Barr "has established absolute support" for the four-point statement. But Barr never appeared.
An hour later, he staged his own event at the press club. "We understand that there was some degree of being upset that we weren't at the news conference this morning," he said. "But the fact is that we have an agenda that transcends any one person, any small group of people."
Instead of promoting all four candidates, Barr said, Paul should have supported him. Instead, he said, Paul showed "amorphous" leadership. In a bit of divine comedy, Barr compared the moment to 13th-century Italy. "This is not a time, as Dante Alighieri said many years ago, to remain neutral. . . . To paraphrase him, woe be unto those who remain neutral."
And woe be unto those who try to put lipstick on the pigheaded.