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Dave Brat, Ayn Rand, and Purpose in Political Commentary

Several people on Facebook criticized my article, “Dave Brat and Ayn Rand on Rights and Government,” claiming that it “trashed” Brat, or was too negative, or should have focused on the positive fact that some politicians today (Brat included) are influenced by Rand. These critics either failed to grasp the substance and purpose of my article or fail to grasp the importance of clarity and differentiation in philosophic and political matters. Their criticisms, however, have inspired me to say a few words about the nature of a theme in writing and about my selection of the particular theme of that earlier post.

The theme of my article was that Brat’s views are not, as many leftists claim or imply, synonymous with those of Ayn Rand. Not only do the two differ substantially on various political issues; they also hold opposing views on fundamental philosophic matters. The theme I selected was not the only one possible, obviously. I might have written (as others did) about the spread of Rand’s ideas through the culture, or I might have focused more on Brat’s better ideas. In my view, the most important issue to address about this development was not the influence of Rand on Brat—that was widely reported and thus abundantly obvious—but the differences between the views of Rand and Brat. That was the point that was not obvious to many people, and that is the issue that is crucially important for advocates of Rand’s ideas to clarify.

For an indication of why I selected the theme I did, consider the following headlines and comments that wrongly claim or imply that Brat and Rand share the same ideas:

The goal of the left in making such remarks is obvious—leftists wish to smear Ayn Rand and to smear Brat by association. The problem is that their attempt to tie Brat’s views to Rand’s will confuse people about the actual nature of Rand’s ideas (as the left attempts to do regularly). In fact, the fundamental views of Rand and Brat are not only dissimilar; they are diametrically opposed. Brat is a staunch religionist who bases his political views on religious faith, whereas Rand is an atheist who grounds her political views in observable facts. The two also disagree on important political questions, including immigration (as I discussed in my previous article).

Culturally and politically, the fact that Brat won a congressional primary in Virginia (and that he may win a congressional seat), although a net positive, is of relatively minor importance. What is crucially important is that many more Americans come to understand and embrace Rand’s ideas. If that happens, we won’t have to worry about whether an isolated politician shares some ideas in common with Rand; we’ll see the rise of many politicians who are deeply influenced by Rand. In writing about Brat, I selected the theme I did precisely to clarify for anyone interested that Brat and Rand, although in agreement on some important positions regarding politics and economics, have fundamentally opposing worldviews (as Brat himself recognizes).

Another reason I gave Brat only my qualified praise is that he has not to my knowledge clearly stated his positions on some important issues. Consider, for example, minimum wage laws and abortion.

Regarding minimum wage laws, when a reporter asked Brat point blank, “Should there be a minimum wage in your opinion?,” he replied, “I don’t have a well-crafted response on that one.” That a professional economist did not have a “well-crafted response” to such a common and easy-to-answer economic question is alarming. Although I suspect Brat opposes minimum wage laws (he offered some practical reasons to doubt their usefulness), he has not to my knowledge definitively clarified his position on this important subject.

Regarding abortion, although various reporters have claimed that Brat opposes a woman’s right to seek an abortion (see, for example, this New York Times blog post), and although Brat says he will “protect the rights of the unborn” (sic), I have not found a fuller, more definitive statement from him on the matter. (I will write more on Brat’s comments regarding abortion in a future article.)

The contents and structure of my article were determined fundamentally by its theme, and its theme is that Brat’s views on important issues differ substantially from Rand’s. In pondering whether that was a point worth making, it is helpful to ask: On what does the future of America depend more: Dave Brat winning a congressional seat, or Americans grasping the true nature of Ayn Rand’s ideas?



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