The popularity of Ayn Rand in Republican and Tea Party circles has given rise, fortunately, to efforts to educate people on what she believed. ThinkProgress has a three minute video showing Rand attacking Medicare as no better than robbery, extolling selfishness, attacking majority rule, conceding that very few people are worthy of being loved, and so on. It is, to my mind, entirely fair comment. (Rand’s atheism comes out, but only in a snippet from a quotation containing other points.)
And then, from the American Values Network—and recommended as an indispensable tool of persuasion by The Democratic Strategist—there’s this:
The video hammers on the single point that Rand is to be feared for advocating “a morality [cue ominous type size increase] not based on faith.” The video refers to Rand as an inspiration for Paul Ryan’s brand of economic individualism and capitalism, but strongly implies that the reason to be wary of economic individualism is that it’s secretly linked to atheism. The video carefully edits the quotation mentioned above so that only Rand’s rejection of religion, not her political and economic positions, is left in. (Transcript after the jump.)
Though I didn’t seem to convince many people when I said this about Jack Conway’s Aqua Buddha ad, I’ll say it again (and the argument applies even more clearly this time): this kind of appeal is reprehensible. We would be appalled if a fundamentalist Protestant group attacked a candidate for
reading books basing his or her world view on books by Catholics, Jews, or Muslims. As I explained in the earlier post, this is not because there’s anything wrong with being Catholic, Jewish, or Muslim but because the implication profits from the prevailing prejudice (among the intended audience) that it is wrong, holds greater force the more we can count on that prejudice’s being unshakable, and slathers an extra coat of implied respectability on the prejudice. We should find it equally appalling for a progressive religious organization to attack Republicans solely and specifically for reading books having a worldview invented by an avowed atheist.
Attacking Rand for her politics is one thing. Attacking her for the particular value (selfishness) in the service of which Rand rejected the Christian faith is more or less the same thing (and completely fine, as in the ThinkProgress ad). Portraying Rand as ominous and evil because of her rejection of faith as such is something completely different. But that’s what the video does.
The American Values Network should be ashamed of itself. And The Democratic Strategist—to which I’ve contributed in the past—should stop blurbing its shameful appeal.
Update: A reader pointed out that the ad faults politicians for their avowed worldview, not merely for “reading books” as in the original version. Quite right—but the larger point stands.
Transcript of American Values Network ad “Ayn Rand & GOP vs. Jesus”:
Ayn Rand: I am against God. I don’t approve of religion. It is a sign of a psychological weakness…I regard it as evil.
Narrator: Who is Ayn Rand? And more importantly, why has she had such a profound impact on Republican leaders? Like Senator Ron Johnson, who called Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book”? And Senator Rand Paul, who said he is “a fan”?
Mike Wallace: You are out to destroy almost every edifice in the contemporary American way of life…Our Judeo-Christian religion. You scorn churches and the concept of God. Are these accurate criticisms?
Rand: Yes. I am the creator of a new code of morality…a morality not based on faith.
Narrator: Rush Limbaugh called her “brilliant.” And “Fox and Friends” declared her movie a “victory for capitalism.” And as for the author of the Republican budget, Paul Ryan…
Ryan: Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism. And this to me is what—is—matters most.”
Narrator: What matters most to you?
[Cut to a “learn more about” screen with contact information for the American Values Network]