Atlas Shrugged For Dummies

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John Nichols compiles a list of quotes from some of the “Randiest” members of congress (and I’m talking about people who have the hots for a dead Russian romance novelist.) But then he features one who makes even the Rand lovin’ Paul Ryan look like a casual reader:

But it is now safe to say that no congressional Republican is more in the thrall of Rand than Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. The Tea Party favorite who came into the limelight last week, first with his convoluted questioning of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the tragic killings of Americans at Benghazi in Libya, and then with his acknowledgement after a dressing down from secretary of state nominee John Kerry that he had not actually been a member of the committee when some of the basic briefings on Benghazi were presented.

While Johnson may not be prepared for Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, he’s entirely up to speed on Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged…

Before his election to the Senate, Johnson helped purchase and erect a statue honoring the book. And in a newly produced video he tells an interviewer that he thinks we’re living in an Ayn Rand moment and that he’s a lot like one of the characters from Atlas Shrugged.

“Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged in 1957, partly as a warning against the growth of government. Do you see parallels between the plot of Atlas Shrugged and current events?” asks Laurie Rice of the Rand-focused Atlas Society in the interview.

“Absolutely,” replies Johnson, while discoursing on how he thinks “we’re all suffering collectively from the Stockholm Syndrome. That’s where people who have been kidnapped are grateful to their captors when they just show them a little bit of mercy. And collectively, we just don’t understand the freedoms we’re really losing.”

The highlight of the interview comes when Rice asks the senator: “What do you see as the differences between your ideas and the ideas of Ayn Rand?”

“I’m not sure there are too many differences,” he says with regard to the writings of the author who decried “the appalling disgrace” of Ronald Reagan’s administration because of its deference to ideas emanating from what she referred to as “the God, family, tradition swamp.”

Then Johnson goes all in, finding something of himself in a favorite Ayn Rand novel.

“I guess when you take a look at the book Atlas Shrugged, I think most people always like to identify with the main character—that would be John Galt,” chirped Johnson. “I guess I identify with Hank Rearden, the fella that just refused until the very end to give up. And I guess I’d like to think of myself more as a Hank Rearden—I’m not going to give up.”

That’s the sort of confidence you’d expect from a senator who boldly interrogated the Secretary of State without bothering to prepare.

This reminds me of nothing so much as girlfriends who half drunkenly confess to each other which character in Sex in the City is most like them. (“I’m deffffinately Miranda, but, you know, I’m short of like Charlotte too.“)

I think the true brilliance of Rand may be that she wrote it as a novel rather than an outright polemic. By putting her philosophy into the mouths of strapping heroes and the sexy women who love them, she gave young teen-agers a way to access the ideas through identification with the lead characters. And those who never emotionally or intellectually mature beyond that age continue to see their self-centered philosophy from that “heroic” perspective. Just as 14 year old narcissists see themselves as uniquely gifted and special, so too does Ron Johnson.

Nichols concludes with this, which never gets old:

Paul Krugman reminds us (of Kung Fu Monkey’s great quote): “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.”

Erecting a statue dedicated to Atlas Shrugged is the equivalent of erecting a statue dedicated to The Hardy Boys There’s nothing wrong with honoring a book you liked as a kid, of course, but you wouldn’t want to run a country based on The Hardy Boys. Not that the Bush administration didn’t try …

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