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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)

"It's clear we don't come from a political background," says Gillespie, referring to himself and Welch. "I started out in rock and teen magazines. We're not about [self-pleasuring] to Ronald Reagan." Oh, behave.

It's not that they don't do politics. Of course they do politics. They are a political magazine. But they want you to know that they do politics far less than the other political magazines do politics. "Too often the conversations here are all about 'Oh, can you believe Al Gore did this?' " says Welch.

Adds Gillespie, "It's such a tedious debate. It's like how many Bill Buckleys can dance on the head of a pin."

To prove they are above all that nonsense, they have parties.

"We want to have interesting conversations about things," says Welch. "We want to drill home that culture matters."

Once a month, culture comes in the form of magazine release parties at assorted Dupont dives and wafts of conversation like "This can't be good for my liver" and "Jeremy has passed out in his own vomit."

Jeremy, several people make sure to tell you, is not a Reason employee.

Does he work for the Cato Institute? Cato refugees have been known to show up at Reason parties, which are announced on the magazine's blog and thus open to anyone who reads it. Their first try was at some pseudo-Irish pub, and drew staffers from both American Prospect and the Weekly Standard who eyeballed each other from across the room like at an awkward middle school dance.

The crowd is more guys than gals, and the women who do arrive look gamine and mischievous, and like they wouldn't say no to a cigarette. At a recent event, Emmanuelle, Welch's wife, wears black leather pants with a yellow racing stripe running up each leg.

Several other times each month, Reason brings culture in the form of an afternoon roundtable, or a wine-and-cheese Q&A with Someone Controversial.

On the Wednesday after the Big Hunt happy hour, that figure was Roger Stone, the political trickster most recently in the news for allegedly bawling out New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's dad on an answering machine.

An astounding number of men with Newt Gingrich haircuts arrive at the magazine's offices to hear Stone. These men are regarded warily by Reason editors, most of whom wear T-shirts or hoodies.

"It's a whole different set of slobbering drunks" than last night, Michael Moynihan, an associate editor, says cheerfully.

Everyone drinks beer, unless they look like Newt Gingrich, in which case they drink drinks out of plastic glasses.

Gillespie asks Stone about the art of negative campaigning and encourages him to drop the F-word liberally. This is, Gillespie reminds him, a libertarian office. Stone does, especially when bawling out Spitzer.

After the event, Gillespie and Welch share that they are not Stone supporters. "On a very profound level, he is a grotesque," Gillespie says the next day.

But Reason's goal in Washington is not to agree with everyone, says Welch, but rather this: "We want to add a new bacteria to the culture."

And are you sure, they ask, that you wouldn't like a drink?


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