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Monday, August 13, 2012

Get out the gaffe hook, Noah. Here come the Republicans.

Since Mitt Romney has declared himself a candidate for president,  his campaigns have been one long expression of weirdness.  He says things that make people hit their heads and say, "Did I hear right?"  The press keeps reporting those things as "gaffes."  And he pours out one gaffe after another.  His recent trip to Europe was one gaffe-filled event after another.  And who can forget his  memorable performance in Michigan when he told his audience that Michigan is a great place because the trees are just the right size? The occasion rivaled Larry the Cable Guy's performance as Donny the Retard singing Christmas carols and suddenly blurting out "I like tater tots!"

One must wonder after someone commits one verbal mishap after another, day after  day, when the press will conclude that the person is essentially a dolt. And that he made millions because he is unencumbered by any intellectual baggage like an awareness that most people struggle and strive to live in a framework of consideration and decency towards others. 

In all the frenzy over Romney choosing Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate, few who comment have noticed that Romney has committed another one of his clumsy, insensate blunders.  Oh, they gave the there-he-goes-again chuckle when Mitt introduced Ryan as "the next president of the United States."   A number of comments noted that the contrasting personalities lend a balance to the ticket.  But very few noted that Ryan, like Romney, is a rich kid who has little tolerance for those of modest means, and whose concept of a national budget is to eliminate any obstacles to the unimpeded gathering and hoarding of personal wealth that might be caused by those who need help and support for health and well-being. In that regard, The Displaced Plainsman quotes Joan Walsh:   "The man who wants to make the world safe for swashbuckling, risk-taking capitalists hasn’t spent a day at economic risk in his entire life."

But the blunder of the greatest magnitude is that Ryan is a loudly self-avowed disciple of Ayn Rand. He also claims to be a bona fide member of the holy roman order of kiddie diddlers, as Larry Kurtz identifies them, which in this merger with a member of the latter day saints of sanctified undershorts provides aspects of peculiar cultish undercurrents.  The element of incoherence is intensified by the fact that both men identify themselves with some Christian affiliations, but Ayn Rand was stridently atheistic.  Both Madville Times and Displaced Plainsman have noted and explored the ramifications of these contradictory beliefs.  

It is possible and somewhat ordinary for a professing Christian to revere aspects of the thinking of an atheist, but Rand was stridently anti-Christian, dismissing the most basic tenets of Christian beliefs, especially in regarding other people, as foolery and folly.  Feeding the hungry and healing the sick was, to her, submitting to parasites.  

However, her philosophy of "objectivism" is also vehemently anti-democratic. Freedom, equality, and liberty were, in her mind, foolish and impertinent because they interfered with the individual's quest to realize "selflsh" ends.  Her assertion was that the ultimate morality was one's own happiness and the ultimate ethics was quided by becoming what one wanted to become.  Liberty was defined as the hero's freedom to pursue his self-interest; consideration for how that pursuit might affect others was dismissed as an irrelevancy. 

Shortly after her novel Atlas Shrugged  (1957) was published, I returned from service in the U.S. Army on the front lines of the Cold War.  That service involved two fronts:  in terms of armor, we were ready to fire guided missiles at any hostile aggression coming from the Soviet bloc; in terms of political ideas, we worked to counter the Soviet Communist propaganda that penetrated into the West.  Because Ayn Rand had escaped from Soviet Russia, her political philosophies received respectful hearings during that Cold War period.  

When I was released from active duty and returned home to finish my college degree, Atlas Shrugged was in circulation on college campuses.  Most of my fellow English majors were unimpressed, but the book was talked about.  Some talked of Ayn Rand's protagonists, but we were a generation well acquainted with Hemingway's code heroes and found Rand's to be crudely constructed stick figures in comparison.  As for literary style, we were acquainted with Melville, Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, Vladimir Nabokov, and that immense galaxy of wordsmiths that was our heritage. Rand was not a writer of that magnitude.  I don't think I can willingly read Atlas Shrugged again because I recall the irritation with which I tried to plow through her tendentious prose, and I did not find her plots to be as cleverly constructed or her characters to have the psychological veracity that her few advocates claimed.  Most of us regarded her as an overbearing bore.  

On the philosophic side, her exercises in logic led to frustrating snarls of tautology.  She wasn't as persuasive as she was domineering. But the biggest factor in assessing Rand was that all her literary efforts and philosophical pretenses were devoted to refuting the premises of Christianity and democracy.  She saw unfettered capitalism as the ultimate system of governance but could not see that she was merely casting feudalism in 20th century terms.  

As a scholar and teacher of Native American literature, I have taken deep, moral offense against Rand.  She claimed that the Native Americans did not produce a "heroically productive capitalist society" and, therefore, deserved to have their land taken from them.  That contention exposed her justifications of predation and force and greed as an acceptable motivation in self-realization.  

These are the values Paul Ryan embraces in his discipleship of Ayn Rand.  But they are the values under which the one percent have acquired so much of America's wealth and earnings.  It is those who embrace Rand's values that work to exterminate the poor and underprivileged by neglect if not more aggressive means and to push the middle class into the ranks of the expendable.  They are the disciples of Ayn Rand and their values are essentially misanthropic.  

The question is whether a majority of American people will come to realize the values operating in the Republican candidates and dismiss them as a "gaffe" or in order to be included as heroically productive capitalists will betray and give up the premises of Christianity and democracy.

Has the nation really descended into that morass of ignorance and greed?

1 comment:

caheidelberger said...

Hmm... Jesus wasn't "heroically productive" nor "capitalist"; I guess Rand would conclude that he deserved getting crucified like the Native Americans. Jesus should have skipped preaching and stuck with carpentry...

Excellent essay, David!

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