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Jewish World Review July 7, 2003 / 7 Tamuz, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Honoring nation's first celebrity superstar


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Every freedom-loving American who wants to celebrate July 4th with more than a few burgers and firecrackers should check out Time's special issue on Ben Franklin, our often-forgotten Founding Father.

After spending just a few minutes with the nearly 40 pages Time devotes to the scientist-inventor-diplomat-humorist-entrepreneur-thinker-practical political leader, you'll understand why Franklin was America's first international celebrity superstar.

Time's informative package relies heavily on its former managing editor, Walter Isaacson, whose new book, "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life," debuted this week.

As Isaacson points out, Franklin -- a wise, tolerant hero made of flesh, not marble -- didn't get on the $100 bill just for inventing things like bifocals, lending libraries, fire departments and local militias, or by helping to conceive "America's unique style of homespun humor and philosophical pragmatism."

He also proposed workable plans for uniting the colonies and, oh yeah, he seduced the French court into sliding us the money, soldiers and ships that made it possible to win our little Revolution.

Franklin's famous charms, skills and virtues are, literally, too numerous to go into. But one of his most enduring -- and most important -- legacies is the clever editing job he did on the most politically powerful line of Tommy Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

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Jefferson originally wrote, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

It was old Ben who came up with "We hold these truths to be self-evident," a tiny but "resounding" change that Isaacson explains spun the principle in question (the natural rights of man) from one that sounded like "an assertion of religion" to one that became "an assertion of rationality."

Switching gears completely, into low, that 55-year-old tough guy on the cover of Cigar Afcionado is the same cheerful one gracing the cover of Esquire: Arnold the Future Governor of California.

Cigar Aficionado's visit with Schwarzenegger isn't nearly as illuminating about the former Austrian peasant boy's political side as Esquire's is, but it's good, clean, smoky fun. So is the rest of the slick magazine, which, per usual, is crammed with manly articles about hot cars, motorcycles, gambling and, of course, dumb expensive cigars.

Two other American rags-to-riches heroes are featured in the summer Radar, the edgy-hip pop culture magazine whose second issue looks as good as its strong debut.

Brassy Camille Paglia lovingly interviews media-shy Matt Drudge, the millionaire Internet king whose Drudgereport.com attracted 1.4 billion hits last year with its infamous mix of news, gossip and scoops.

And Radar updates the latest travails of another new-media emperor, Joe Francis, the inventor of a less classy but typical American product an old skirt-chaser like Ben Franklin might appreciate -- the "Girls Gone Wild" video series.

Francis, who has made nearly $100 million on the simple idea of talking partying coeds into doffing their tops for his cameras, is in serious legal hot water in Florida, because some of his subjects - whoops -- were under 18.

So, for now, he has no plans to run for governor of California.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald