I wrote this on the Marketplace of Ideas blog when I returned to Marketplace in 2008. I think it remains accurate.
Hey there everybody
Please don’t romp or roam
We’re a little nervous
’Cause we’re so far from home
So this is what we do
Sit back and let us groove
And let us work on you
— Chicago, “Introduction” from Chicago Transit Authority
It occurred to me after writing Marketplace of Ideas e-column numbers one and two that many readers may have no idea who I am, since I left Marketplace in 2001, two children, one presidential election and numerous other events (including 9/11) ago. …
(Warning for future reference: Reading this column may make you dizzy, since, as you may have already noticed, I often add enough parenthetical phrases to make reading me look like an electrocardiogram reading, augmented by hotlinks. Read on for examples.)
“Prestegard” is a Norwegian word meaning either “priest’s farm” or “animal farm,” the latter of which strikes me as an unkind statement on the usual state of my work space. (My retort to such comments usually is that people with neat desks obviously don’t have enough work to do.) The most famous Prestegard is probably James H. Prestegard, Ph.D., “a noted researcher in biological structures” at the University of Georgia. (In contrast, my worst subject in school was science.)
My father, also named Steve (his middle name; you can imagine the confusion during phone calls at home when I started sounding like him), is not a “noted researcher” (although he was part of southern Wisconsin’s first rock and roll band), but he worked in banking for 40½ years for one employer (with four different names) and, more importantly, was an excellent dad. My mother was a finalist in the 1960 Miss Wisconsin USA pageant, and my parents were pictured on the 1961 official Wisconsin road map, getting directions from a state trooper (a highly unlikely scene, believe me). I will never reach the level of coolness of any of the three famous Steves of the movie “The Tao of Steve” — Steve Austin (this one, although there is also Stone Cold Steve Austin, whose name is not actually Steve Austin), Steve McGarrett or Steve McQueen — or, for that matter, the “Cult of Steve,” but then again, life is too short to worry about being cool.
I’m a native of (the People’s Republic of) Madison and a Journalism and Political Science graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where I probably spent more time playing in the world famous University of Wisconsin Band than on, say, studying. (Then again, the UW Band was much more fun, and that was before the Badgers started making regular appearances at football bowl games like three Rose Bowls and NCAA basketball and hockey tournaments.) I was a reporter for weekly and daily newspapers and owned a weekly newspaper for 1½ years before coming to Marketplace in January 1994. My side interest, other than eating, is sports announcing, currently on The Ripon Channel, including the twice-state-champion Ripon Tigers football team.
For those who care about personality, according to the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator I’m an ESTJ, as were or are, according to these sites, Simon Peter, George W. Bush and eight other presidents, Jack Webb, Eliot Ness, John D. Rockefeller, Sam Walton, Rev. Billy Graham, Mike Wallace and Vince Lombardi. According to various online sites, I’m a “capitalist,” “libertarian,” more libertarian than conservative, and very right-wing economically and somewhat socially libertarian, as Milton Friedman was. (And according to this site, there is only one other Stephen Prestegard in the U.S.)
More Steve trivia: I was the first person to win the Madison City Spelling Bee more than once, in 1977 and 1979 (possibly a harbinger to my future career as an editor). I earned the Eagle Scout Award in 1981. Between stints here at MARKETPLACE, I have had two political experiences — member (or, if you will, commissioner) of the City of Ripon Plan Commission and candidate for school board, where I said I wanted to finish first or last, and I got my wish. (This company prohibits its employees from serving in political offices the grounds that those who report the news should not be involved in being in the news, so thus ends my political “career.”)
I’m a big fan of the rock group Chicago (this Chicago, not this Chicago). The lyrics that begin this column come from the first song of Chicago’s first album. My uncle (owner of an Appleton machine shop, incidentally; his wife, my aunt, found the ad for the Marketplace editor position back in 1994, so blame her if you don’t like what you read) once played the entire 16-minute-long “Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon” (including “Make Me Smile” and “Colour My World”) at ear-splitting levels in his house for me, and I was hooked from then on. I’m also a big fan of America’s sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette (any manual-transmission model from 1965 to 1981 or from 1997 onward), even though I sadly lack money or garage space for one. (Corvettes are also somewhat incompatible with tall people and families of five.)
My most visible personal eccentricity, if you must know, has to do with my facial hair. In eighth grade, I had a science teacher who grew a beard during the fall (my first exposure to a deer hunting beard), then shaved it off after spring break. In my case, I have a beard during the winter, shave down to a goatee during the equinox seasons, and then usually shave down to a mustache during the summer. Why do I do this? Because I can.
Journalism is a profession of, for most, long hours, low pay and little recognition outside of when a journalist screws up. (That may explain why so many journalists are liberals and tend to dislike business — perhaps they assume that all work environments are like theirs.) Yet, as I wrote here before, there is something bracing about having your name on your work for everyone to like, hate or otherwise critique. However, journalism is not nearly as tough as being a parent — my most important job, and yet the job I often feel least able to do.
For those who wonder about how I got my particular political bent, it probably is at least in part the result of growing up in Madison and attending UW. It wasn’t just the daily display of some sort of left-wing idiocy; it was the fact that so many people took the left-wing idiots seriously and gave respect to views that no one with a brain should consider for more than 0.02 seconds.
Personal example: Madison once had an “anti-nuclear dance group” called Nu Parable, which performed what they called “die-ins” (think Marcel Marceau performing the last scene in “Dr. Strangelove”) in public places, such as Madison’s East Towne Mall, to demonstrate their conviction that the large worldwide supply of nuclear weapons of the time was going to leave the Earth either a flaming and radioactive, or frozen and radioactive, hunk of rock orbiting the Sun. Nu Parable was particularly convinced that Ronald Reagan, having inexplicably failed to immolate the Earth during his first term in office, would certainly succeed if he was re-elected in 1984.
Where would be an ideal place for Nu Parable to express this belief? During the National Anthem before the nationally televised Wisconsin–Ohio State football game that fall, of course. When you are standing on Camp Randall Stadium’s artificial turf in uniform playing the Star Spangled Banner, you do not expect, once you get to “And the rocket’s red glare,” people you don’t recognize to run past you on the way to the U.S. flag to perform their “die-in.” (Then again, Nu Parable probably didn’t expect the entire student section to start a “Nuke ‘em! Nuke ‘em!” chant as they were arrested by UW police.)
Individuals or groups like Nu Parable have the right, under the First Amendment, to express whatever views they like. (The fact I was in uniform probably deterred me from finding one of the Nu Parables and expressing my constitutional rights upon that person, something the legal system probably would have called “felony battery.”) What seems unique to the left is that much of the left seems to believe that everyone should live like the lefties believe people should live, and they enforce their beliefs through, say, burning down under-construction million-dollar-houses because such houses are inconsistent with their environmental views.
I have become more libertarian as I’ve gotten older. We have certainly seen that Republican presidents or governors (or, more accurately, those they appoint or those elected with them) can screw things up or waste our tax dollars left and right almost as well as Democratic presidents or governors can. I do not want to be told how to live my life by a conservative-leaning government (consider that the Federal Communications Commission is fining ABC-TV over the appearance of bare actress skin in an episode of “NYPD Blue,” a series that has been off the air for three years) any more than I want to be told how to live my life by a liberal-leaning government (read the stickers warning about the air bags that are federally mandated to be in your car). At the risk of igniting an argument I won’t explore in detail here, one advantage of the free market is that if you don’t like a particular company, you don’t have to use that company’s products or services. Such, unfortunately, is not the case with government. (As to whether we really have a free market in the U.S., that argument is likely to be picked up later.)
As I wrote before, I do not believe markets are perfect, because humans are imperfect. (This probably separates me from the followers of Ayn Rand — for one thing, Rand was an atheist, and I am not — although I’m a big fan of Atlas Shrugged, which is one of the great philosophical works of the 20th century.) To paraphrase Winston Churchill, it may well be that capitalism is the second worst economic system on the planet, with all other economic systems tied for worst. But if God indeed gave us all reason and free will, then no other economic system other than the free market is compatible with that reality — people making their life decisions themselves. As Churchill put it, “The common denominator in the history of the English-speaking peoples is individual freedom. We are its creator, its protector and its guarantor.”