Who Takes Ayn Rand Seriously?

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Paul Ryan + Ayn Rand

Well, Paul Ryan and a lot of Republicans, which should tell you something right away. But if you can find a person — mostly likely a man — who holds a graduate degree in philosophy from an accredited university and who takes Rand the tiniest bit seriously as a philosopher, encase him in amber, put him on a shelf, and ignore him resolutely as one who has nothing of interest to contribute to any worthwhile conversation you can imagine having on any topic.

So now that Paul Ryan is soon to end his misbegotten career as a member of the House of Representatives, and his most recent, abject failure as Speaker of the House, in general, but in particular relative to his own, stated, base goals as a legislator, becomes unmissable, more people are starting to notice that Ryan and Rand have more in common than surnames with four letters beginning with R. Both are complete intellectual frauds.

Prominent journalist and pundit Ezra Klein, a pretty smart guy, nobly falls on his sword and admits he was wrong to take Ryan seriously when he proposed viciously draconian budgets after Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections. We can call Klein’s plight the Trump problem. Journalists, for good reason, have a strong inclination to take people as seriously as they can. For one, it’s just respectful to do so. For another, they have no more capacity to predict the future than anyone else. Today’s crackpot might turn out to be tomorrow’s genius. It happens.

But some people, Donald Trump prominently among them, are so obviously blithering idiots that no one should ever take them seriously at all. “Morning Joe” and his blond side piece, or main piece, as the case may be, Mika, helped Trump mightily in 2016 by sucking up to him at every opportunity, thus proving what bad jokes they are as journalists. Klein, being rather smarter than either of those two, or than those two put together, was never quite so obsequious towards Ryan, but he wanted to be irenic, to play the good centrist, since that’s supposedly what most Americans want.

Overly polite journalists played a large role in letting Trump take the presidency. This is a problem.

Historians like to talk about “realigning elections,” elections in which major political shifts become apparent. Usually, a realigning election includes a change in the Party that dominates the political landscape. Political scientist V.O. Key pointed to 1860, when Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, as a realigning election that ushered in a long period of Republican Party dominance. Between 1860 and another realigning election, 1932, the only Democrats to win election as president were Grover Cleveland — still the only president in our history to serve two terms, not consecutively — and Woodrow Wilson, who won in 1912 because Teddy Roosevelt ran as an independent and split the Republican vote.

Klein’s publication, Vox, considered the proposition that 2016 was a realigning election, which is worth considering, but not a very strong claim to begin with, and decided it was not. It is not a coincidence that realigning elections usually occur when some major issue or catastrophe is abroad in the land. Lincoln’s election pushed slave owners to start seceding from the Union, leading to the Civil War. Franklin Roosevelt won in 1932, three years after the beginning of the Great Depression. Such moments also somehow seem to find great leaders. In most historians’ evaluations, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt routinely take two of the top three positions in any ranking of best presidents, George Washington usually taking the third spot, in varying order.

To be polite, um, Trump does not fit the bill. He is no leader at all, much less a great one. Instead, it rather looks as if 2018 may turn out to be a realigning election, although it is too early to tell. Realigning elections usually occur in presidential election years, which is when major Party shifts are easiest to spot, since whoever wins the presidency becomes leaders of his (or her) Party by definition. But for purposes of evaluating the well deserved demise of Paul Ryan/Ayn Rand toady’s career and reputation, we have a useful counterpoint who won in 2018.

Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in what most observers agree was definitely a wave election, if not a realigning election, which seemed to give the lie to the allegedly centrist leanings of the American voting public. In particular, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a new member of the House from the Bronx, who won her primary against a well entrenched member of the Democratic House leadership, has, among other pointed comments, compared herself to Paul Ryan, pointing out that the white boy from Wisconsin became the golden boy (Klein can console himself that he was far from the only observer to fall for Ryan’s policy wonk schtick) after winning his House seat at 28, while Ocasio-Cortez, a brown woman who also won her seat at 28, gets nitpicked about her bank account and her wardrobe, among other trivial matters, even though she really does have a bold, challenging policy program that incorporates multiple important issue areas into one umbrella proposal.

We can hope that Ryan’s departure from Congress will prove to have been a harbinger of the demise of the annoying white boy caucus in favor of a Congress that looks like the rest of the country, and what the country is becoming.

And they can take Ayn Rand with them.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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