Reason's Libertarians, in Pursuit of Happiness

Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason magazine, passes out Christmas song lyrics at the libertarian magazine's monthly social. The staff believes in a free market and a wide-open party.
Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason magazine, passes out Christmas song lyrics at the libertarian magazine's monthly social. The staff believes in a free market and a wide-open party. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 23, 2007

Four minutes into Reason magazine's monthly bash at the Big Hunt lounge, and every Libertarian-as-Bacchus fantasy you've entertained plays out before your widening eyes.

Nick Gillespie, the leather-jacketed, Mama-said-you're-dangerous editor of the political rag peers at you intently. "What do you need?" he asks. "Do you need a drink? A cigarette?"

A stranger reaches out to knead your shoulders. Maybe what you need is a relaxing back rub.

My, is that cloying smell in the stairwell . . . marijuana?

This is a snippet of a happy hour, one of hundreds of scenes happening at bars throughout the city on this Tuesday night. But for the mostly male editors of Reason -- newly congregating in the District after years of spider-holing around the country -- partying hearty represents a point of moral pride.

"D.C. is a city of young fogies who think the only way to be pious is to wear ill-fitting suits" and obsess over politics, Gillespie, 44, says later. "We're the only people that want to have fun."

* * *

Libertarianism is a hard sell for young, majority-Democrat Washington. Its free market philosophy must be carefully tempered with swinging promises: "Yeah, baby, I do oppose the minimum wage, but let's talk about it over an illegal substance or two, hmm? Bring a friend."

It's a bachelor-pad vibe, and it's the vibe emanating from Reason, a publication with 60,000 readers and articles ranging from the expectedly wonky ("Is Rudy Giuliani a new Barry Goldwater or a new Bobby Kennedy?") to the snarkily cultural ("Say You Love Santa: Pop Culture's War on Secularists"). A recent issue lambasted the District's zero-tolerance drinking and driving policy -- cops can book anyone with a blood alcohol content over .01 -- and postulated that the Onion might be the best newspaper in the country.

If you are a free-thinking Washingtonian in your 20s or 30s, Reason wants your ear -- look, just give Ron Paul a chance -- but it wants something else even more. It wants to seduce you.

Five months ago, Reason leased a space in Dupont Circle. Those high on the masthead had decided a 202 area code was necessary for clout; the new location is low on office equipment but high on sex -- flat-screen TVs, granite countertops and a large shag rug. Beige, yes, but shag.

Last month the staff launched Reason.tv, home of "The Drew Carey Project" (dude's a libertarian) as well as other anti-Big Brother videos. And on Jan. 1, Gillespie will leave his print magazine role to bulk up the presence of Reason.tv and Reason.com. His replacement is Matt Welch, a former Los Angeles Times opinion writer who wears pink vests with rhinestone buttons and has a French wife. On the Web site's masthead, 11 out of 15 editors are male, and with rare exception, they are also under 40 and non-Beltway.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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