Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Will an old Reader guy be the ruin of Obamacare?

Posted By on 03.27.12 at 12:52 PM

Randy Barnett
  • Randy Barnett
Who to root for? I'm OK with the individual mandate, and I hope the Supreme Court agrees, once it's wrapped up its three days of hearings into the new federal health care law and decides whether it should stay on the books.

On the other hand, if it weren't for Professor Randy Barnett of Georgetown University, maybe I wouldn't have a job.

Barnett is profiled Tuesday on the front page of the New York Times. He's described as a "passionate libertarian" who argues that it's unconstitutional to make Americans buy health insurance. And "over the past two years, through his prolific writings, speaking engagements and television appearances, Professor Barnett has helped drive the question of the health care law’s constitutionality from the fringes of academia into the mainstream of American legal debate and right onto the agenda of the United States Supreme Court."

Back in the early 70s, Barnett, then a Northwestern undergrad, sold ads for the Reader. Former owner Tom Yoder calls him "the first successful Reader ad salesperson" we had. The idea of giving away the paper and making the advertisers pay all the freight was a radical one back then, and the Reader's future depended on showing merchants that the Reader connected them with such desirable readers that the surcharge was worth it. Barnett made the case. If no one had, the Reader, founded in October 1971, would have gone out of business. As it was, after five hard years the paper started turning a profit.

"He was incredibly smart," Yoder remembers. "He’d go after places that made sense in the Reader, and he’d work with [art director] Bob McCamant to make good ads." The ads worked. Yoder recalls a Lakeview retailer of camping equipment who found himself with so many customers from Hyde Park, thanks to Barnett's ads, that he opened a Hyde Park outpost.

Barnett joined the Reader as its Evanston ad rep soon after the paper was launched, was given the much fancier title of ad director a few weeks later, and kept it until he left town for Harvard Law in the late summer of 1974. "He always said we made it possible for him to go to Harvard," says Yoder. "He made way more money than anybody was making then."

Yoder joined the Reader in January of 1973. It was his job was to oversee the ad sales force, but he did so under the guise of "managing editor" until Barnett moved on. "It was a joke," says Yoder. "We were worried about getting him mad and he might leave."

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