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In 2003, to celebrate 35 years of publishing a monthly magazine dedicated to Free Minds and Free Markets, reason named “35 Heroes of Freedom”—innovators, economists, singers, anti-communists, pornographers, professional athletes, and even the occasional politician who contributed to making the world a freer place since 1968.
These weren’t necessarily the 35 best human beings to span the globe. Richard Nixon, for example, was selected for encouraging “cynicism about government” through his rampant abuses of power. And, well, let’s say Dennis Rodman hasn’t aged particularly well. But the list reflected the happy, unpredictable cacophony that has helped liberate the world one novel or deregulation or electric guitar at a time.
Our 45th anniversary has come along at a darker time. The post-9/11 lurch toward unchecked law enforcement power has now become a permanent feature of our bipartisan consensus, with a Democratic president now ordering assassinations of American teenagers and with millions of Americans unaware that the feds are combing through their telecommunications. Keynesians in Washington responded to the financial crisis of 2008 by ushering in a lost decade of government spending, sluggish growth, and the worst employment numbers since Jimmy Carter was president. And after an initially promising Arab Spring, whole swaths of the Middle East seem poised for a long, sectarian, transnational war.
So it’s fitting that this time around we’re anointing reason’s 45 Enemies of Freedom. Again, these aren’t the worst human beings who bestrode the planet since 1968 (though Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden rank right down there). Some, like John McCain, are even genuine American heroes. What unites them is their active effort to control individuals rather than allow them free choice, to wield power recklessly rather than act on the recognition that the stuff inherently corrupts, and to popularize lies in a world that's desperate for truth.
You’ll see some familiar names there (we can’t quit you, Tricky Dick!) and some others that deserve to be more notorious. But in our otherwise alphabetical list we’ll start with the man who nearly everyone on our staff nominated, a figure who embodies so much that is wrong with public policy and the political conversation in these United States.
1. Michael Bloomberg
Here is how New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained the importance of his widely derided 16-ounce limit on servings of sugar-sweetened beverages after a state judge overturned it last March: “We have a responsibility as human beings to do something, to save each other, to save the lives of ourselves, our families, our friends, and all of the rest of the people that live on God’s planet.” Bloomberg literally thinks he is saving the world one slightly smaller serving of soda at a time.
As grandiose as that may seem, it is consistent with Bloomberg’s view of government. A few years ago in a speech at the United Nations, he declared that “to halt the worldwide epidemic of non-communicable diseases, governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option,” which he described as “government’s highest duty.” On Bloomberg’s to-do list for government, apparently, defending us against our own unhealthy habits ranks above defending us against foreign invaders or marauding criminals.
Public health is not the only area where Bloomberg’s authoritarian tendencies are apparent. There is his enthusiasm for gun control, his illegal crackdown on pot smokers, and his unflagging defense of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program, which portrays the Fourth Amendment as a gratuitous barrier to effective policing. But his determination to halt “epidemics” of risky behavior shows him at his most arrogantly ambitious.
Bloomberg has pursued that goal not only by meddling with people’s drink orders but by banning trans fats, pressuring food companies to reduce the salt content of their products, imposing heavy cigarette taxes, severely restricting the locations where people are allowed to smoke (even outdoors), mandating anti-smoking posters in stores that sell cigarettes (a policy that, like his big beverage ban, was rejected by the courts), and proposing a rule that would require merchants to hide tobacco products from people who might want to buy them.
The attitude driving Bloomberg’s crusade to “make healthy solutions the default social option” is reflected in another comment he made after his pint-sized pop prescription ran into legal trouble. “It was not a setback for me,” said the billionaire with degrees from Johns Hopkins and Harvard. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I watch my diet. This is not for me.” No, indeed. It is for those poor, benighted souls who think it is acceptable to drink a 20-ounce soda.
2. Idi Amin
The bombastic Ugandan dictator and self-appointed Conqueror of the British Empire lived in luxury during his 1970s rule while overseeing a unique brand of sadism that included mass killings, forced deportations, and torture.
3. Sheriff Joe Arpaio
Maricopa County, Arizona’s chief law enforcement officer is famous mostly for publicly degrading inmates: forcing them to live in a tent city, work on chain gangs, wear pink underwear. Meanwhile, his more serious transgressions receive far less attention. Arpaio has created citizen posses to track down and arrest illegal immigrants, overseen a jail staff that has violently abused inmates (resulting in the death of three prisoners and the paralysis of a fourth), and used law enforcement resources to harass and intimidate his political opponents.
4. Osama bin Laden
His desire to impose an Islamic caliphate marks the late terrorist as decidedly anti-liberty. But Osama bin Laden’s real crime against freedom was masterminding the murderous 9/11 terror attacks, which not only slaughtered nearly 3,000 people, but also inspired the U.S. government to react with overseas wars, the PATRIOT Act, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Transportation Security Administration. It is thanks in no small part to bin Laden that the United States is far less free.