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Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 2003 / 8 Kislev, 5764

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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An odd lot of 35 'heroes'


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | What do Madonna, Barry Goldwater, Margaret Thatcher, Willie Nelson, Richard Nixon, Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Clarence Thomas and Ted Turner have in common?


The same thing that Larry Flynt, John Ashcroft, Julian Simon, Rose Wilder Lane, Dennis Rodman, Friedrich Hayek, Jane Jacobs, Robert Heinlein and Vaclev Havel do.


These 18 geniuses and nutballs of politics, culture and commerce - and 17 others like Nelson Mandela and C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb -- make up Reason magazine's eclectic and, at first glance, random list of "35 Heroes of Freedom."


It may seem perverse for a libertarian magazine that champions "Free Minds and Free Markets" to exalt John Ashcroft as someone who has "made the world a freer, better and more libertarian place by example, invention or action." And Madonna? Did she quietly invent school vouchers after her "Material Girl" period?


You have to be a libertarian and fan of Reason, which is 35 years old this issue, to make sense of its heroes list, which is deliberately irreverent, incomplete and twisted.


Attorney General Ashcroft, for example, is included because his crackdown on medical marijuana users and his eager implementation of the Patriot Act "has united conservatives, liberals and libertarians around a single noble cause: the protection of civil liberties."


Madonna is a hero because she "helped broaden the palette of acceptable cultural identities and destroy whatever vestiges of repressive mainstream sensibilities still remained."


Conservatives, especially social ones who believe in government spiritual engineering, will love half of Reason's choices and be stunned by the rest. They'll hate every laissez-faire thing the magazine says about culture, lifestyle choices and drug legalization.


Liberals, meanwhile, might approve of 15 percent of Reason's heroes and cheer its noninterventionist foreign policy. But they'll despise every favorable thing Reason says about free trade, globalization and technology.


But that's what libertarians always get - single-issue friends and enemies from across the spectrum. From both the Democrat left and Republican right, Reason's "radical" notions will always look like ideological and moral schizophrenia.


Call me crazy, but Reason has always made perfect sense to me. Like its editor Nick Gillespie, I'm for maximizing human choices and against "busybodies, elites, and gatekeepers" who insist on telling "other people how they should run their lives."


Back in the 1970s, when it was an early promoter of deregulation and privatization, Reason was a dry read. Under Gillespie it's younger, sassier and more interested in pop culture and high tech. But it's just as predictable. It'll never come out for national dental care or Howard Dean.


My favorite magazine won't save America from the freedom squelchers among us. But like most political think magazines, it has persuasive powers far beyond its 60,000 circulation.


Once, after Reason picked up something I wrote in 1986 about deregulating children's television, it sent me one of its T-shirts as part of my payment. Because I'm a smart aleck, I made a point of wearing the shirt the day I crossed into East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie in 1988.


I know Maggie Thatcher played a bigger part in bringing down the Evil Soviet Empire. But as I entered Commie territory wearing Reason's T-shirt with its bold "Free Minds and Free Markets" slogan, I swear I saw a tiny crack open in the Berlin Wall.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald