Former Congressman Speaks Out Against Broad Executive Power


Former Congressman Bob Barr.

The Harvard Federalist Society brought former Republican Congressman Bob Barr to speak last Thursday on privacy issues stemming from the recent NSA wiretapping. Barr, who also served as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia during the Reagan Administration, has been a prominent opponent of the USA PATRIOT Act and a strong critic of the current administration’s views on executive power.

Barr, noting the pizza that was being served during his lunchtime address, told students that he had come to understand the “power of pizza” while in Congress. Congressman Sonny Bono used to order pizza when Judiciary Committee meetings were running too long and let the smell waft from the next room until everyone was willing to reach a compromise in order to eat.

Turning to the role of executive power in American Democracy, Barr commented that he did not believe the term “Commander in Chief” “was ever intended to be anything more than an administrative recognition that [to have a military] you have to have a person in charge.” Following this logic he added that it is impossible to believe that “because [President Bush] is the Commander in Chief he can override or ignore the provisions in our Bill of Rights … that competition of interests is essential for a representative democracy to function.”

Since leaving Congress in 2003, Barr has spoken extensively against the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act and has been a prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Barr’s main proposition continues to be that the government is infringing on “the basic notion of privacy,” what Ayn Rand referred to as “the most important index, most important foundation of civilization itself.”

Before taking questions from the audience, Barr ended by adding that “we are talking about more than the outward signs of the PATRIOT Act or the NSA wiretapping. It’s about more than a phone call or a bank account. It’s about more than the privacy of one’s medical records. It’s not about fighting terrorism. It is about preserving constitutional freedoms, the very freedoms of our society.”

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