Calhoun's Can(n)ons for April 29, 2001
True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt had no idea. The Cult of Ayn Rand is now in full flower in Washington in a gaggle of powerful players. And they’re writing and trying to pass laws that don’t just affect your Senior Prom, they’re now writing laws that will affect your life.
A wag once noted, “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: “The Lord of the Rings” and “Atlas Shrugged.” One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
Alas, Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, was one of those 14-year olds, but he didn’t get the joke. Instead, he’s an Ayn Rand Fanboy who requires his staffers to read her massive screed, “Atlas Shrugged,” which is a risky thing to do since it will plunk him into the Bin of the Shameless Hypocrites when they learn that Ryan’s father died when Ryan was 16 and thereafter Ryan received Survivor’s Benefits from that anathema to all Randians: Social Security. Which, ironically, puts Ryan in the class of people Ayn Rand most despised: parasites and moochers. (“Bootstraps, young Ryan. That’s all you need: Bootstraps!”) And may explain why Ryan now wants to “transform” and “privatize” Social Security as we know it right out of existence. (“A bootstrapped safety net for me, zip for you. Ayn wouldn’t approve, you know.”)
Ryan is being touted as the courageous savior du jour with his budget proposal that basically gives more tax cuts for the rich and the shaft to everybody else. Which is quintessential Rand. Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Fed was also a Fanboy of Rand, even wrote her a fan letter, although he couldn’t have read her novels very carefully. On his watch, after the Randian Masters of the Universe on Wall Street blew up the financial world and nearly brought this country down, he expressed surprise and confessed that it never occurred to him that any Master of the Universe would be so irresponsible and reckless as to destroy his own company.
Obviously, Greenspan never bothered to read the ending of “The Fountainhead.” Some fan.
And now the Cult of Rand has churned out Part I of “Atlas Shrugged,” a loving-hands-at-home movie filled with earnest reverence and bad writing, while offering full employment for second-string character actors. It’s now playing at your local Cineplex, though if you want to see it, I’d recommend you hurry since Part II has been canceled and Part I won’t be there long.
A Romantic Rand Renaissance in the era of Facebook (We’re all one big interconnected Tahrir Square, now.) seems strangely anachronistic, like watching Republican Congressmen suddenly morphing into Civil War reenactors on the floor of Congress and yelling about the South Rising Again! But I suppose it’s to be expected.
In hard times, when the world has suddenly turns upside down and flies totally out of control, a good number of people apparently find comfort in turning back into teenagers. And there is nothing more powerfully attractive than RandWorld’s ego-stroking, romantic world view, which is basically the normal 14 year-old’s sociopathically delusional belief that his individual needs alone stand athwart the world -- “ I AM JOHN GALT!”-- while Mom is hollering down the basement stairs that he needs to stop picking at his pimples and get his homework done.
Most of us grow out of that phase. But a few don’t. Safely wrapped up in RandWorld, the Paul Ryans of this world grow up believing that society is made up of Prime Movers (them) and everybody else (moochers). They forget that Dagney Taggart didn’t build her railroad with those soft white manicured hands: Moochers did, one spike at a time; Commie Bums and Socialist Moochers and Union Parasites who knew what the real world is like and demanded whiney Dagney pay a living wage and pony up her fair share of taxes to help build and pay for a safety net because building railroads is hard, dangerous work and those builders needed a safety net for when times got tough.
That’s who built Dagney’s railroad. Without them and their steel-bending hands, Dagney Taggart would just be another rich second-rate dreamer sitting in a bar buying drinks for anybody who would listen to her while she drew her useless plans to build a railroad and make it run, all scribbled out on the back of damp cocktail napkins.
Buddy, can you spare a dime?