Thursday, April 21, 2011

Author Ayn Rand Seen As Dangerous Influence

Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan has become the target of intense scrutiny by the Left, the criticism extending to Mr. Ryan's literary tastes. Ryan, of course, has been a serious proponent of gaining control of the nation's run-away spending, and he has offered a proposal to reduce the deficit, implementing changes such as simplifying the tax code and eliminating tax deductions.

Criticism against Ryan has been as distorted as it is ill informed. MSNBC’s “The ED Show" interviewed David Cay Johnston, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner for "beat reporting". Johnston called in to question Ryan’s legitimacy on the basis that he’s a fan of ... Ayn Rand (?!).

In Rand’s book, “The Fountainhead,” a fictional character named Howard Roark blows up a building. In Johnston's view, that means people should evaluate the possibility that Paul Ryan is a proponent of blowing up buildings. Fortunately for Johnston, being able to make logical progressions were not a skill deemed necessary to winning the Pulitzer prize.

Johnston offered a few beat reporter insights:
“You know, Congressman Ryan requires his staff to read Ayn Rand, whose fictional hero, Howard Roark, is a man who blew up a building because it wasn’t built exactly to his specifications as the architect”
No, Mr. Pulitzer prize, Mr. Ryan does not require his staff to read Ayn Rand. That's just a made up piece of nonsense. Apparently Mr. Ryan has read "The Fountainhead" and does believe it holds themes that are relevant and worth appreciating, themes such as the evil of oppressive statism and the loss of individuality, but he does not require his staff to read novels, this one or any other. That would just be silly, a term which fits your whole appearance on the "ED" show.

Recommending books that we find thought provoking and interesting are things that many of us do. There is nothing sinister about that. Perhaps you should consider doing a little reading yourself, Mr. Johnston. Maybe do a little background research before going on programs like "The ED Show."

Mr. Johnston continued:
“I mean, that’s the kind of society we want where our leaders say, not only are we taking from the sick and poor but we’re going to hold out as a model people who commit felonies like blowing up buildings. We really need to dig into understanding the kind of people who would put forth these ideas.”
Really? Perhaps we should dig into understanding how a Pulitzer prize winning beat reporter could get his story so wrong on the substance of its chief points. Never mind. We already understand how that goes.

Perhaps Mr. Johnston believes those Rand books should be put to the torch. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot. The left are the open minded ones among us.


Update April 21st, 6:15 pm (Pacific time).

There is further controversy! It is now contended that Ryan insists on the reading of "Atlas Shrugged", and not "The Fountainhead". No matter. Ben Domenech clears it up for us:
Always skeptical about the offhand, unsourced anecdote from Beam’s piece (which wasn’t even focused on Ryan), I reached out to several former Ryan staffers yesterday to ask them whether the Budget Chairman had required them to read Rand. While everyone knows Ryan is indeed a personal fan of Rand’s work, not a single one of them said Ryan had required them to read the books. Responses include: “I had already read it prior to working for him, but it is by no means a requirement for employment,” and “Saying he ‘requires’ his staff to read it is definitely stretching the truth,” and the flat out denial: “We are not required to read Rand.”
If Ryan's staff are to be believed, the claims of forced Rand readings are specious. However, the greater point is that regardless of whether or not Mr. Ryan's staff read Ayn Rand, that does not give one license to claim that he is a man whose bent is toward blowing up buildings. That is an outrageous claim that is utterly contemptible and without merit. It should not be a part of the public debate, and certainly should not be inserted into the debate by a journalist.


  1. I think it requires higher math than I studied to calculate the leap from Point A: Paul Ryan likes Ayn Rand books, to Point B: Paul Ryan is "going to hold out as a model people who commit felonies like blowing up buildings."

    Oh, I miss the good old days, when we had the luxury of being able to chalk this sort of thing up to stupidity.

  2. Well, exactly. To confirm or refute the story that Ryan requires his staff to read "The Fountainhead" takes all of one phone call. Pulitzer there didn't get it done, and found himself on a national cable program asserting facts that are easily dispelled as false. Whether he realizes it or not, that unfortunate set of circumstances undermined everything else Pulitzer has to say. And it is not as though it needed to be undermined, as the assertions themselves are the stuff of witch trials. Guilt by inference, guilt by association... it is the weakest kind of argument that anyone with the least bit of sophistication and morals would sweep aside as simple propaganda. And that is how Johnston acquits himself. The Pulitzer prize winner is a mere propagandist for the democrat party.


  3. Curious, Mr. Nicholas, that you have not posted my earlier comment to how legitimate published sources say he does require his staff to read Ayn Rand (now maybe they are wrong, but I did not make it up as you claim).

    And I do not believe what you imagine.

    So, looks like I am the one all for free and robust speech (and with decades of clips to prove it) and you for not publishing comments that you evidently dislike.

  4. "So, looks like I am the one all for free and robust speech (and with decades of clips to prove it) and you for not publishing comments that you evidently dislike."

    I believe I understand your meaning, and I can tell you that, despite your contention, I do not preview comments. They are posted as they are submitted. The workings of blogger are not fool proof, and I have had good friends of mine loose lengthy comments on more than one occasion. Frequent commenter Darrell has mentioned this a time or two, usually accompanied with lament about his comment disappearing into the ether or some such. He doesn't just assume I have been screening his comments and deleting them. Refreshing, don't you think?

    So, a published source says that he requires his staff to read Ayn Rand, and his staff say they do not. Well, we still are left with a reporter on national media making claims without confirming the factual accuracy of the claim. That's not good, but it is the least problematic portion of the ED show appearance. You go on to say that because of this reading program we can conclude that he is in favor of blowing up public buildings.

    "we’re going to hold out as a model people who commit felonies like blowing up buildings."

    You understand, that "The Fountainhead" is a fictional work, and that the events that occur to the fictional characters are not meant to be a treatise on civil behavior? The author is telling a story and is using a dramatic narrative. To suggest as you do that Mr. Ryan is in favor of blowing up buildings is reprehensible, unprofessional and utterly partisan.

    The only recourse available to you to regain some sense of journalistic credibility would be to withdraw the comment and apologize to Mr. Ryan. You can do it. It's a free country, Mr. Johnston... still.

  5. You have to read The Fountainhead to post here. It's the law.

    Let me know if you need any other assistance.

  6. "Curious, Mr. Nicholas, that you have not posted my earlier comment"

    If I can pull this off like a prize winning journalist, I would assert that Mr. Johnston never wrote an earlier comment, but is simply making up his allegation of non-posting. Now I ask you, is this the kind of society we want, where our Pulitzer prize winners falsely claim injury? What evidence do we have that he ever wrote an earlier comment, let alone attempted to submit it?

    I think I'm getting the hang of this!

  7. Mr. Nicholas, my apologies. I posted and it did not appear, the only website of many I responded to where this happened.

    While writing this message just now the first two paragraphs disappeared and I am recreating them now, suggesting that between my ISP and yours or in my laptop there is some technical glitch or timeout or something technical I do not understand.

    In any event, I apologize.

    I am glad you did not, as others did, write that I called Ryan a terrorist or said he wants to blow up buildings. I'm perfectly willing to be criticized for what I did say.

    What I said is that we need to dig (reporterspeak for inquire) to understand. We need to do that with all leaders.

    Ayn Rand's ideas are radical, far afield of the classic virtues, religious texts, market economics and our Constitution.

    Ayn Rand said altruism is evil, hated democracy, was vehemently anti-religion and her views on capitalism would not be recognized by anyone who actually understands market economics.

    She also taught that we are not a society and only the self matters. The Roark courtroom speech is obviously metaphor, but it is also articulates violent and felonious conduct motivated by pure ego.

    Mr. Ryan, in seeking votes, embraced Rand without reservation and spoke favorably of her views and his belief that America need to move toward them.

    I did not call into question Mr. Ryan's legitimacy. I said we need to dig to understand.

    If you believe in the marketplace of idea then you should welcome that, even when it comes, as my words did, in a clearly critical context.

    You did leap to some wild statements, like I want to burn books. We should read books that offend them and encourage others to read ideas they dislike as much as those they like.

    As to the "requires" issue, numerous published sources state this. A check of letters pages does not show Mr. Ryan or his publicists objecting. So I did not speak rashly or on the basis of one comment.

    Hopefully my recommendation that we dig into what motivates Mr. Ryan will encourage others to read about Ayn Rand's ideas.

    It is by reading her words and critiques of them that people can best ascertain whether they want to embrace her ideas, as Mr. Ryan has said he wishes.

    I anticipate that most people would be put off or appalled, but if a majority of Americans embrace Rand's worldview and put it into policy, as Mr. Ryan has clearly stated is his motivating desire, then that's how democracy works and we will all live in a very different America than the one we know.

  8. errata: We should read books that offend (( them))) othersxx

  9. Mr Nicholas,

    1) I have never made up anything in my life and I would not have survived 44 years of writing about very powerful governments, officials and corporations with a solid track record of saving lives, getting laws passed and people going to prison if I was not scrupulous in what I write.

    2) You try to pin a partisan pin on me, but obviously did not make the slightest inquiry. Try Googling this:

    "david cay" registered

  10. Several published sources state that Ryan requires his staff to read "The Fountainhead"? Well, his staff say "No". Passing along an untruth is not the same as making up something, but it is pretty darn close. And leaping to wild statements? You misrepresent me. I did not say that you were for burning books, I said "Perhaps Mr. Johnston believes those Rand books should be put to the torch," This would be a rhetorical devise, carrying your logic onward, using irony to juxtapose your attack of Mr. Ryan with the common leftist cry of "book burner". Most anyone reading this would catch the fun intended.

    Let's take a look closer. Ayn Rand was strongly opposed to all forms of religion. Paul Ryan is a practicing Roman Catholic. Clearly if these two things are true (and they are) than it is safe to say that Mr. Ryan does not slavishly follow Ayn Rand's philosophies. That being said, we do not therefor inform ourselves on Mr. Ryan by studying Ayn Rand. They are different people. Mr. Ryan is a public figure. If one wishes to "dig" on Mr. Ryan, one might try driving the shovel a little closer to where the treasure lies buried. There are ample opportunities to investigate what Mr. Ryan has said and review how he has conducted himself. Chasing down Ayn Rand's philosphies and presuming to judge Mr. Ryan on that basis is flawed thinking. By claiming Mr. Ryan must now defend himself by clarifying how he differs from Rand, while never actually suggesting to look at the ample and readily available statements and records of the man himself speaks of an odd sort of investigative workmanship. I would suggest that your admonition to study Rand to understand Ryan is not an effort to understand Mr. Ryan at all, but rather is an effort to misunderstand him. There is no excuse for it. It is a tact that one would expect to be taken by a party loyalist, rather than a reporter.

    Where Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan intersect would be their opposition to collectivism and statism, their mistrust of power in the hands of a coercive government, their belief in the natural tendency for government to expand and use its broad powers against the people it rules, rather than governs, their embracing of open markets and their opposition to regulation and excessive taxation. These themes of distrust of a powerful central government are mirrored in our own founding documents, as these same concerns were strongly present in the minds of this nation's founding fathers. I doubt that Ryan's fondness for Rand extends much farther than that, but if you believe so than you can ask him - he will give you answer.

  11. Putting aside your tears and fears of fictional violence in Rand for a second, could you direct me to your columns critical of politicians praising Ayers' Prairie Fire or other similar radical texts and depictions of real-life violence? Or the real destruction of dams by "dambusters," praised by politicians and certain corners of the media? Public assets that would cost $100s of million to replace today, destroyed without any attempt to correct problems, if any, and without adequate public debate even though they had provided service for 80 years? What about a whole party of politicians praising the Cloward-Piven strategy and its authors even though the heart of that is the destruction of the US economy and thus the nation? How far does the NYT allow you to go? How long would you be collecting a paycheck if certain sacred cows were attacked? Is this like France saying "no" to everything the US was pushing after WWII because saying anything else would demonstrate a lack of independence, even if it was the right thing to do? Did it bother you just a little bit when you made a mountain out of a dustbunny--all from a pol's book recommendation? Good thing you didn't have access to his Netflix recently watched list. . .

  12. @ James Nicholas,
    Thank you for your criticism on the issue of where the shovel should go. That is the kind of debate that is useful.

    I'm a columnist, not a reporter, so I get paid for my informed opinions. And hard to make this out as partisan. Try Googling my name and registered.

    @ Darrell, I cover taxes and I have not worked for the NYT for more than three years, which you could have determined in seconds with a Google search.

    Your Ayres point is tangential, but FYI there was a long front-page piece about how unrepentant Ayres remains. Did you read it?

    Sacred cows? Never met one in four of the five newsrooms I worked in. And in the first I made it a point to get the one cow into print without regard for the owning family's sensitivities.

    The NYT had lots of backbone, solid integrity and when it erred as in some infamous cases was public about it and corrected, Page One stories, unlike many institutions, which sweep their mistakes under the rug (where I specialize in vacuuming).

    Ask anyone who worked in a newsroom beside me about my well-known reputation for being in the faces of my editors. From early in my career I told editors what I would do, not the other way around. I regarded myself as a small businessmen who got a retainer (salary).

    No story hard on the friends of the various editors and publishers went unrun in 40 years as I exposed one powerful institution or person after another, savings lives, wringing out real changes, prison sentences, new laws, etc. All of that work stood up to scrutiny by others.

    I have slain so many sacred cows (or what other people thought were sacred cows) I can't remember them all, but you can read every one of those stories between the public morgues of the five papers I worked for, Google, Nexis and my books.

    Since you (wrongly) imagine sacred cows read my mid-80s coverage of the Music Center in LA including its California Club fund-raising victory party, just to get a taste. And if you do not know why that would be the most sensitive story imaginable for the publisher go read up on the history of that city and Music Center first.

  13. "I'm a columnist, not a reporter, so I get paid for my informed opinions."

    Then, do you not have both a moral and a fiduciary obligation to be, well, you know, informed in your expressed opinions.

  14. Look, David, focus. We are not wondering or worrying about your credentials, nor are we doing "This Is Your Life". We are discussing your appearance on "The ED Show", and the things you offered in your interview there and only there, to wit:

    “You know, Congressman Ryan requires his staff to read Ayn Rand, whose fictional hero, Howard Roark, is a man who blew up a building because it wasn’t built exactly to his specifications as the architect. I mean, that’s the kind of society we want where our leaders say, not only are we taking from the sick and poor but we’re going to hold out as a model people who commit felonies like blowing up buildings. We really need to dig into understanding the kind of people who would put forth these ideas.”

    Even if I were to grant you that Paul Ryan requires all staff members to read "Fountainhead" (which I do not grant, and for good reason), it still leaves you making an unsupportable premise, which is that Mr. Ryan is properly understood by studying the philosophies of Ayn Rand, and as such we must be concerned, very concerned, about the implications.

    Mr. Ryan is easily known by reviewing his public record, his public statements and by asking him questions directly. The effort to tie him to philosophical positions that he himself has not espoused clouds the public debate and makes it difficult for the public to understand what Mr. Ryan proposes.

  15. Yes, Mr.David Cay Johnston... Do you think that "registered" means anything to most people? And what might that be?

    I did Google your name but must have been distracted by all the hits saying "NYT." I'm sorry that I haven't kept up with your Christmas letter--if I'm on the list. Yes, the NYT is a gem. That's why they didn't cover any of that "Climategate" stuff. Nothing of substance there like there was with the McCain rumors about nothing. Americans like stuff about nothing.

  16. @ Nicholas, I appreciate your critique to the extent that it goes to my actual words, which like all spoken comments could have been more focused and polished.

    @ Darrell, your first point misses the "partisan" claim above, which the public record shows is nonsense. Had you done any research you would know that numerous critics of my work have noted that my books are routinely characterized as bipartisan in their examination of our public policies.

    Your second is utterly devoid of facts and had you taken a moment to check you would know that.

    There were 17 print stories using your pejorative term and more using neutral terms. Put "climategate" in at you will get a huge number of print and online entries.

  17. "I appreciate your critique to the extent that it goes to my actual words, which like all spoken comments could have been more focused and polished."

    You do not answer the issue. It is not a question of focus or polish. You made an allegation that you had not confirmed to be accurate, then went on to make an unsupportable presumption which impugned the man's character, the consequence of which unfairly undermined his proposal.

  18. What we hope for is that reporters will inform the public. Is that what we had here? Indeed not.

  19. Put "climategate" in at you will get a huge number of print and online entries.

    Except the "meat"--the emails that remove all doubt about the intentional deception. The "confessions" which under normal circumstances would never have seen the light of day. Without which we would have an endless debate about "innocent' legitimate differences of scientific opinion.

    Perhaps facts should make the case. Then there would be no need to twist yourself into a pretzel to appeal to partisan or bipartisan concerns or interests.

  20. Excellent point.

    I believe the method being employed is the notion that being a registered republican puts to bed any contention that there is a partisan aspect to his work. Sorry, that doesn't fly here. You will have to stand on the merits of what you have said.

    As I said above, it is not every and any Ayn Rand idea Mr. Ryan believes worth embracing. That should have been clear with my above comment on their differing views on religion. It is the struggle for freedom and the tendency for government to assume too much authority over the individual where the two meet. Ryan contends that the people have a right to expect the givernment to act responsibly. When the government "gives" anything, it first must take it. The people that are being taken from have a say, as it is they that the government represents. The government belongs to the people.