Part of any presidential campaign is a process through which Americans get to know the candidates beyond their policy proposals. Voters, rightly or wrongly, are invariably going to notice candidates' personalities, their likes and dislikes, and what they're like as people.
To that end, Politico set out to find what "books and thinkers have inspired" the presidential hopefuls. The piece, put online this week, added, "In a campaign some have called an ideas-free zone, we put that question to the contenders, and looked through their past statements, to find out which living intellectuals, historical figures and books they claim as political influences."
Many of the answers are predictable -- you won't be surprised to learn the Bible and Abraham Lincoln are popular -- but this tidbit jumped out at me.
Ted CruzHistorical figure: Ayn Rand, “one of my all-time heroes.” *** Rand PaulBook and historical figure: “I’m a big fan of Ayn Rand, and I’ve read all of her novels.”
This is not an uncommon attitude, especially among congressional Republicans. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has credited Ayn Rand for inspiring his political career. (He's reportedly required his interns to read “Atlas Shrugged.”)
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 novel, the senator added, is his “foundational book.”
As we talked about at the time, President Obama sat down with Rolling Stone in 2012, noting, “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.”
It appears some of his would-be successors disagree.
Postscript: The same Politico piece, by the way, identified Jeb Bush's favorite book as "Our founding documents." Seriously, gov? MSNBC's Chris Hayes yesterday imagined the scene at Bush campaign headquarters:
STAFFER 1: So we need a book. What's a book?
STAFFER 2: The Bible?
STAFFER 1: Too obvious. How about Founding Documents?
STAFFER 2: Works.