The Truth About GOP Hero Ayn Rand
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Ayn Rand -- Russian emigre, founder of the mid-century Objectivist movement, putative philosopher, writer of the novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged , and the inspiration for a small but intensely devoted band of acolytes -- has been enjoying a resurgence of late on the American right. The cultural capstone to this resurgence arrived last week with the release of a filmed adaptation of the first third of Atlas Shrugged , independently financed by a wealthy devotee of Rand's work and pitched explicitly at the Tea Party demographic. FreedomWorks, one of the central organizations in that movement, rolled out a massive campaign to encourage audience attendance and to push the film into as many theaters as possible. The 2011 CPAC conference held the world premiere of Atlas Shrugged's trailer, and the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation hosted an advanced screening of the film. This marketing tactic is understandable. The opening line of Atlas Shrugged -- "Who is John Galt?" -- has appeared again and again on signs at Tea Party protests across the nation. The Tea Party builds the theme of " Going Galt" into its rhetoric -- a reference to the strike of industry titans organized by the hero of the novel. Glenn Beck praises Atlas Shrugged regularly on his various shows, and even held a panel dedicated to asking if Rand's fiction is finally becoming reality. The Economist reported several sharp spikes in sales of Atlas Shrugged since 2007. And according to the Ayn Rand Institute, sales of the novel hit an all-time annual record that year, then reached a new record in 2008, with possibly another peak in 2009. By all accounts, Ayn Rand is now one of the central intellectual and cultural inspirations for the base of the Republican Party.
RAND'S INFLUENCE ON GOP
"For over half a century," says Jennifer Burns, a recent biographer of the novelist, "Rand has been the ultimate gateway drug to life on the right." And with good reason. Besides her prominence in the Tea Party's intellectual and cultural lexicon, some of the Republican Party's leading lights have cited Rand by name as an inspiration. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said she was the reason he entered public service. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) called Atlas Shrugged "his foundational book." Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an avowed fan and quotes extensively from Rand's novels at Congressional hearings. His father Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) told listeners that readers ate up Rand's Alas Shrugged because "it was telling the truth," and even conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas references her work as influence in his autobiography -- and apparently has his law clerks watch the film adaptation of The Fountainhead . The phenomenon holds amidst the right-wing media as well: Rush Limbaugh called her "brilliant," Glenn Beck's panel on Rand featured the president of the Ayn Rand Institute Yaroom Brook, and Andrew Napolitano enthusiastically recounted a story in which his college-age self introduces his mother to Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness . John Stossel and Sean Hannity have name-dropped her as well. Going further back, Alan Greenspan -- former chairman of the Federal Reserve and a fierce advocate of free-market ideology -- is an acolyte of Rand's thinking and knew her personally, and Rand was also dubbed the unofficial "novelist laureate" of the Reagan Administration by Maureen Dowd. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Ayn Rand's reach on the right is how unremarked-upon it most often is.