Sen. Sam Brownback, listens during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. 
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty

Some Republicans give up on the idea of an ‘Ayn Rand utopia’

A core tenet of Republican ideology in recent years is the belief that no tax should go up – on anyone, at any time, by any amount, for any reason. GOP officials’ unflinching commitment to this idea has created all kinds of governance problems, but not enough to undermine the party’s fealty to the idea.

For the first time in recent memory, however, we’re starting to see some examples of Republicans carefully inching away from the partisan principle. The New York Times reported over the holiday weekend on conservative lawmakers in Kansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee agreeing to “significant tax increases in recent weeks to meet demands for more revenue.”

This was especially notable in Kansas, where Republicans were willing to go along with Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) radical economic experiment, before it failed so spectacularly that even many of the governor’s former allies felt they had no choice but to start undoing some of the damage.

And with many Republicans in Congress eager to make the same mistake Brownback did, the Times’ piece quoted one Kansas Republican whose perspective is worth considering.

“If there were three words I could say to Congress right now,” said Stephanie Clayton, a Republican state representative from a district in the Kansas City area, “they would be, ‘Don’t do it.’”

She criticized what she said was a desire by her party to be more faithful to the principle than to the people Republicans were elected to help. Mr. Brownback and many conservatives, she said, overpromised on the tax cuts as a “sort-of Ayn Rand utopia, a red-state model,” citing the author whose works have influenced the American libertarian movement.

“And I loved Ayn Rand when I was 18 – before I had children and figured out how the world really works,” Ms. Clayton added. “That’s not how it works, as it turns out.”

Congress would probably be a more productive place if other Republicans came to the same conclusion.

Let’s note for context that Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) both recently identified Ayn Rand as one of their key political influences. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has credited Ayn Rand for inspiring his political career.

Sen. Ron Johnson, a far-right Wisconsin Republican, told a Randian group in 2013, “We really have developed this culture of entitlement and dependency. That is not what America is all about. I mean, America – and that’s of course what ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is all about – it is about individuals aspiring to build things to make their life – and, as a result, the world – a better place. If we shift to a culture where people are saying, ‘I’m happy to sit back and let the government provide me with things,’ that becomes a dangerous point and time for this country.” The GOP novel, the senator added, is his “foundational book.”

As regular readers may recall, Barack Obama sat down with Rolling Stone in 2012 and noted, “Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we’d pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we’re only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we’re considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that’s a pretty narrow vision. It’s not one that, I think, describes what’s best in America.”

Some Republicans now realize that. For other Republicans, it’s taking a little longer.

Ayn Rand and Kansas

Some Republicans give up on the idea of an 'Ayn Rand utopia'