One year ago, I pointed to the spike in sales for Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and the nascent tea party movement as evidence that "ought to give the folks in the Obama administration a sense that the ground underneath them is not as firm as they thought." Boy did that turn out to be true. That is not the only political calculation I predicted it would upset.
"But note that Ayn Rand didn't just oppose the Marxists; she also rejected the idea that your life belongs to God…. It is this secular moral message that is likely to upset a few political calculations on the right.
"Fifty years ago, William F. Buckley's National Review published an infamously savage review of Atlas Shrugged in an effort to eject Ayn Rand and the Objectivists from the right. Earlier this month, National Review Online made a repeat attempt, publishing a 'symposium' on Atlas Shrugged whose upshot, as expressed by religious right spokesman Joseph Bottum, was that 'William F. Buckley, Jr., and National Review did the world a favor, all those years ago, by throwing the…Randians overboard. Do we really have to let them climb back on the ship now?'"
"But when the time comes to defend American capitalism, does the rank and file of the right turn to the ideas of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell? Are they snapping up copies of 50-year-old books by William F. Buckley? No, because Buckley and the religious right never produced anything like Ayn Rand's defense of American individualism. So the rank and file is realizing that she is the thinker they need to help them cope with today's political crisis.
"If enough of these new readers take Ayn Rand's underlying philosophy seriously, that could deal a permanent blow to the religious right's would-be monopoly on the moral foundations of Americanism."
This secularization of the right is already occurring, and not just from the direct influence of Ayn Rand. It is happening because the actual events on the ground have re-awakened in the right a sense of urgency about the case for free markets and limited government. In the main link below, the New York Times has a surprisingly accurate article describing how the tea party movement has moved the right in a more secular direction, pushing free markets and limited government firmly to the top of its agenda—and pushing religious traditionalism to the bottom of the agenda.
On Monday, the online magazine Salon.com posted an article that goes even farther, hailing the rise of a "Randian right": "A new right is being born, following the death of the older conservative movement. Fortunately for the left"—the author is a leftist—"the next American right is dominated by libertarians like Ron Paul and Paul Ryan, who worship at the shrine of Ayn Rand." The article is quite inaccurate—about both of those political figures—and the influence of Ayn Rand on the right is preposterously overstated. But what is so remarkable is that there is something to overstate.
Finally, Michael Barone offers what I think is a very important assessment of the long-term impact of the tea party movement. He compares it to the impact of the 1960s anti-war left on the Democratic Party. In effect, he argues that the tea party movement will produce a new generation of leaders that will transform the Republican Party.
I can see that happening here on the ground: one local tea party organizer has gone on to start a major new program for a conservative think tank, while another just quit to manage the campaign of one of the local congressional candidates (though not, alas, the candidate I prefer).
Meanwhile, what has become of the left's answer to the tea parties, the "coffee party" movement? I actually thought it might have a chance of taking off. It has a somewhat clever name, and the left won't be totally prostrate forever. It will eventually start to regroup.
Just not any time soon. One conservative blogger reports that when President Obama recently visited St. Louis, "2,225 patriots turned out at the 'Kill the Bill' rally in St. Charles, Missouri…. On Wednesday night, 2,300 patriots turned out to protest Barack Obama, the Carnahans, and liberal Senator Claire McCaskill at their fundraiser in downtown St. Louis." Meanwhile, "local liberals held their second Coffee Party to push for more socialism. 30 people turned out."
"Tea Party Avoids Divisive Social Issues," Kate Zernike, New York Times, March 12
For decades, faith and family have been at the center of the conservative movement. But as the Tea Party infuses conservatism with new energy, its leaders deliberately avoid discussion of issues like gay marriage or abortion.
God, life and family get little if any mention in statements or manifestos. The motto of the Tea Party Patriots, a large coalition of groups, is "fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets." The Independence Caucus questionnaire, which many Tea Party groups use to evaluate candidates, poses 80 questions, most on the proper role of government, tax policy, and the federal budgeting process, and virtually none on social issues.
The Contract From America, which is being created Wiki-style by Internet contributors as a manifesto of what "the people" want government to do, also mentions little in the way of social issues, beyond a declaration that parents should be given choice in how to educate their children. By contrast, the document it aims to improve upon—the Contract With America, which Republicans used to market their successful campaign to win a majority in Congress in 1994—was prefaced with the promise that the party would lead a Congress that "respects the values and shares the faith of the American family."
Tea Party leaders argue that the country can ill afford the discussion about social issues when it is passing on enormous debts to future generations. But the focus is also strategic: leaders think they can attract independent voters if they stay away from divisive issues.
"We should be creating the biggest tent possible around the economic conservative issue," said Ryan Hecker, the organizer behind the Contract From America. "I think social issues may matter to particular individuals, but at the end of the day, the movement should be agnostic about it. This is a movement that rose largely because of the Republican Party failing to deliver on being representative of the economic conservative ideology. To include social issues would be beside the point."…
Jenny Beth Martin, the leader of the Tea Party Patriots, complained that she spent the days after the convention answering questions about social issues.
"When people ask about them, we say, 'Go get involved in other organizations that already deal with social issues very well,' " she said. "We have to be diligent and stay on message."…
At a candidate forum sponsored by the Kitchen Table Patriots in suburban Philadelphia in January, nine candidates, mostly first-time politicians seeking office after getting involved in the Tea Party, were asked whether they believed that Roe v. Wade should be repealed. Only one said yes.
"I think that it's also going to get Democrats over, if you're not so rigid," said Anastasia Przybylski, the co-founder of the Patriots. "I have friends where that's a big turnoff—they're registered Democrats because of abortion but they're totally freaking out about the debt."
Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of "The Intellectual Activist (TIA)" and contributor to "The Freedom Fighter's Journal."