Posted by Bob Lord
We’re better informed if we don’t live in our own echo chamber, so we should try to read the right-wing viewpoint, at least occasionally. It’s a real struggle sometimes, but I think in the end it’s intellectually rewarding. Sometimes, after finishing a conservative rant, I find myself questioning the decision to have spent the time reading it. Nonetheless, I wish I had the patience and the time to do more of it.
Right-wing pundits often are thoughtful and incredibly knowledgeable. For example, I’ve read two Pat Buchanan books, “Where the Right Went Wrong” and “Day of Reckoning.” Yes, some of Buchanan’s stuff smacks of racism and/or anti-Semitism, but he’s also a terrific historian. If you read either of those books, and have the patience to overlook the racist crap, you’ll find it rewarding in the end. Ross Douthat is another right-winger who makes a valuable contribution. Check out his piece in today’s New York Times, for example. Some would say the same about George Will, although he lost credibly entirely from my perspective when his views on climate change were exposed as baseless.
On other occasions, it’s relatively easy to dissect the logic of the right-wing viewpoint and expose the underlying intellectual dishonesty. Such is the case, in my opinion, with many of the Charles Krauthammer columns I’ve had the occasion to read. However, because I don’t read the Post on a regular basis, it’s possible my sample size is too small and I’m being unfair to Krauthammer in my criticism.
In many cases, the right-wing viewpoint crosses the line from intellectual dishonesty to pure propaganda. Two examples from my experience are the books “Knowing the Enemy” and “America Alone.” I had the occasion to read these two screeds during my campaign, because John Shadegg, an extreme Islamophobe, was touting them, particularly to Jewish audiences, as must reads. “Knowing the Enemy” uses the age old trick of quoting selectively from the Koran to “prove” that all Muslims are single-mindedly in pursuit of one goal — the subjugation of the entire world to Islam. The obvious flaw in the logic is that one can quote selectively from any holy book to make just about any claim with which he wants to charge the religion upon which that book is based. “America Alone” is a paranoid screed based on the proposition that the non-Muslim world, particularly in Europe, is not breeding fast enough to keep up with those evil Muslims, which will leave America alone in the battle against Islam. At one point, Mark Steyn, the author, goes so far as to explain away Serbian atrocities in Bosnia by pointing to the differing fertility rates of Muslims and Serbs. Wow.
That brings me to my most adventurous recent foray into right-wing writings, “Atlas Shrugged’” which somehow I’d never read before last year. It was no easy task. But I managed to finish, although I confess to skipping the last two-thirds or so of the 75 page rant by John Galt. It was, as the critics say, a preposterous defense of selfishness and greed. But I kind of expected that going in. I discovered in my reading that the writing was flat out terrible. It reminded me of grade school, where students think length is a goal unto itself and brag about how many pages their reports consume. I’d love to know whether Rand had 1000 pages as a goal when she was writing Atlas Shrugged. It sure seemed that way. Verbose would be far too kind a characterization. And the overuse of some terms was nauseating. Half the time one character looked at or spoke to another, it seemed, the look or words were “mocking.”
Ironically, my very next read after Atlas Shrugged was Matt Taibbi’s “Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That is Breaking America.” Taibbi dedicates an entire segment to a take down of Atlas Shrugged. He nails it, in my humble opinion, as only Taibbi could.
Since reading Atlas Shrugged, and hearing so frequently about “Ayn Randers” like Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, and Alan Greenspan, I’ve noticed this seemingly surreal irony that in reality we’re living through Atlas Shrugged Upside Down — the exact opposite of the story line from Atlas Shrugged. Rand spends 1000 pages railing against a world where liberal, socialist policies are taken to absurd extremes. But while right-wingers worship at the altar of Rand, and aggressively fight for her crazy ass principles, the cold reality is that we’re living in a world where conservative policies are being taken to absurd extremes. No matter how much taxes are cut, there’s a push to cut them further. Virtually any government function, including national defense, is fair game for privatization. Any form of regulation is anathema, even if the intent is to prevent the planet from burning. We have open discussion about rolling back child labor laws. The strength of organized labor, and the middle class along with it, is in freefall. Trial lawyers are vilified for, God forbid, representing otherwise defenseless victims of reckless corporate greed.
The horrible result of Atlas Shrugged Upside Down is mass suffering, while the opulence and profligacy of Rand’s heroes, knows no limit. But there’s another ironic twist to Atlas Shrugged Upside Down. The selfish, greedy heroes in Atlas Shrugged were true producers, like Hank Reardon, who sacrificed every waking hour for ten years to develop a new metal alloy superior to steel. In today‘s Atlas Shrugged Upside Down, however, the top one percenters, so often exalted as “job creators,” largely consist of unproductive Wall Street bankers, who make fortunes skimming money out of the general economy, and coupon clippers like Paris Hilton, who made money the old fashioned way by inheriting it. Amazingly, fully fifty percent of all income from capital gains and dividends, the income one makes without lifting a finger, flows to the top one tenth of one percent, about three hundred thousand lucky souls in a country of three hundred million. And, of further irony, those members of the elite who actually are heroes in the Randian sense, true producers like Bill Gates and many of the Silicon Valley success stories, rail against Atlas Shrugged Upside Down.
I don’t consider myself especially astute in making these observations. I’m sure anyone whose given any thought to the matter and who isn’t riding the Limbaugh-Hannity-Paul Ryan crazy train would reach the same conclusions. But it’s disappointing that this Atlas Shrugged Upside Down phenomenon is not recognized more often and derided more effectively. Because, ultimately, Atlas Shrugged and Atlas Shrugged Upside Down arrive at the same destination — the elite living in their own comfort and security, with the masses mired in poverty and hopelessness. Here’s hoping 2012 is the year we turn back the clock on Atlas Shrugged Upside Down. Occupy!!!