TAMPA, Fla. - Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate. Since his teens, Ryan has been a big fan of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." In 2005, he told The Atlas Society that the novel shaped his "values system" - and that speech has launched a number of recent columns by liberals aghast at Ryan's taste in literature.
"Almost everybody in the conservative movement has read Ayn Rand. She gives a moral dimension to defending the free enterprise system," alternate delegate Bill Evers of Stanford's Hoover Institution told me Monday morning as the California GOP delegation gathered.
Let me confess: I tried to read Rand's "The Fountainhead" years ago and put it down twice. I found, as I talked to other Republicans, that I am not alone.
After liberals started complaining about Ryan's admiration of "Atlas Shrugged," I downloaded the book. I'm on Page 549 of the 1,200-plus-page opus, first published in 1957. My first-blush verdict: The characters make too many speeches and don't talk as real people talk. I laughed out loud at the dialogue in the first sex scene.
I have to agree with conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who told me the novel is "a young man's book." If Rand reminds me of anyone, it's George Bernard Shaw, whose works I inhaled when I was in high school.
Rand was conservative; Shaw was a socialist. Yet both writers were philosopher/novelists who created brainy characters of unbendable conviction. What smart young person can resist such a combination - especially with the bonus of the message that the world always should accommodate a clever protagonist?
Hewitt also called the novel "a work of genius" - and for good reason. Rand lays out an economic scenario that actually makes readers care about where manufacturers get copper and how their goods are moved to market.
She captures how big corporations and big-government bureaucrats collude to protect their interests, how their actions corrupt the way people think and how dysfunction then spreads. Now when I see a broken subway escalator, I'll see the shadow of Ayn Rand.
Later in the morning, I approached Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Issa compared "Atlas Shrugged" to George Orwell's "1984." Both novels, said Issa, remind readers that "liberty isn't something that just happens." And both cautionary tales warn of consequences that did not happen.
So why are liberals so threatened by Rand? The New York Times' Paul Krugman wrote that "Ryan is a man of many ideas, which would ordinarily be a good thing" - except that Ryan likes Rand, despite her "worship of the successful and contempt for 'moochers.'"
Krugman conveniently overlooks Rand's many corporate villains and self-serving academics who cheerlead policies that ultimately bankrupt working families. Rand supports capitalists and capitalism. She extols the social benefits of success; ergo, her book is sinister.
At least the Ryan pile-on is a departure from the usual dismissal of the GOP as the Party of Stupid. Now the left complains that Republicans are too fond of a weighty tome on industrial economics. The left's usual message to the right: Read a book; challenge your assumptions. Now it's this: Read a book; it challenges our assumptions.
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