Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Mark Sanford About Why his Newsweek Column About Ayn Rand Sucked

Dear Mr. Sanford,

First of all, can I call you Mark? Is that what your friends call you? What's “Mark” in Spanish? (They speak Spanish in Argentina, right?) I'm just going to call you Mark because since we're both writers, it's like we're work buddies. Granted, all I have is this nearly anonymous blog where I attack Ayn Rand, and you publish your glowing remarks about Rand in Newsweek whenever you want, but that doesn't mean we can't still be friends. I've been making it my mission lately to deliver some constructive criticism to celebrity columnists—like African children cry out to Bono, poorly conceived essays cry out to me—and you could use a little bit of help, Mark.

First of all, you pussied out. When I saw that you had written about Atlas Shrugged, I said, “Hell yeah! This is where my pal Marky Mark whips out the big guns of Objectivism and says to the public, 'I had a passionate, extremely sexually satisfying relationship with a beautiful South American woman because I am a free, rational human being who is not beholden to anyone's happiness but my own, and I take and fuck whatever I want!'” That would be in line with Rand's principals, after all. But instead of standing up to the media parasites in the name of John Galt, you didn't even allude to your affair, despite the uncanny resemblance to some events in Rand's masterwork. Hank Rearden, as you remember, was trapped and manipulated by evil bureaucrats until he refused to be shamed by their oppressive moral system. Letting your wife blame gays for your passionate, rationalistic love affair was not exactly taking out a page from Rand's book.

But hey, I know you've got it tough. You're running for President in three years, and you'll have to run against Sarah Palin, which is like boing Mike Tyson in his prime—as aggressive as a pit bull with rabies, crazy like a three-legged fox, and fully capable of biting your ear off just to spite you. So you've got to start position yourself as the well-informed fiscal conservative, and praising Rand, along with you're attempt to refuse federal stimulus money, could be a step in the right direction. (I mean, it's not like you can run a morals-based campaign, right?)

So you need to watch what you say so it can't be turned back against you—that's fine. But say something, Mark. In the middle of the column, you throw this line out:
"When the economy took a nosedive a year ago—a series of events that arguably began when the government-sponsored corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went broke--many Americans, myself included, watched in disbelief as members of Congress placed blame on everyone and everything but government."

What's my problem with this? For one thing, you use the word “arguably,” which usually means, “I have no way to prove this, but I think...” For another, Fannie and Freddie were casualties of the mortgage crisis, which I won't get too far into, but the trading and overvaluation of securities backed by bad mortgages was really not Congress's fault. It's hard, even with hindsight, to find a way to blame this mess on overregulation.

But what really annoys me is that if you wanted to criticize government from Rand's perspective, it would have been pretty easy. Here's what you could have written: “The financial crisis was caused by incompetent men making bad choices because they assumed the government would bail them out. They begged the government for money based not upon their ability, but their need, and the government replied by rewarding their poor choices and giving them trillions of dollars. Failure should be rewarded by failure, not a feather bed of bureaucratic largesse. Executives—the true leaders of this country—shouldn't seek governmental aid, government should be seeking aid from the executives. And if we whine about executive compensation, it's only because we can't reach that level of success ourselves.”

That would have required criticizing specific, real-world examples and taking unpopular stances, which of course you don't want to do, as a savvy politician. If everyone decides, four years from now, that the bailout was a good thing, you don't want to expose yourself by attacking it now. And it would be a little hypocritical of you to denounce government aid when your state gets $1.38 in federal aid for every dollar it gives to the feds in taxes. Also, that might have caused people to remember that South Carolina recently failed to get some free money from the stimulus package that would have gone towards the 11.5 percent of your state that is unemployed. I mean, there's standing on your own as an Objectivist, and then there's just screwing up and not taking free money. (I forget, did you take responsibility for that snafu?)

I worry that for someone who just wrote an article on Rand, you don't remember all that much about her philosophy. You conclude that your only major disagreement with Rand, who you supposedly admire, is that humans are “fallen,” and therefore need “limited government” to “thwart man's more selfish instincts.” I mean, besides being frustratingly vague, this is practically the opposite of what Rand believed. She rejected the idea of original sin that you reference, and called selfishness a virtue. By praising Rand and then ignoring a good portion of her opinions, I wonder if you are insulting her a little bit more than I was when I called her lazy and mean. It's sort of like if you called yourself a follower of Jesus Christ--who was pretty clear while preaching compassion and nonviolence--and then going out and killing a bunch of people. But who would be that openly hypocritical? Certainly not you, M-Dog. Have fun in Argentina!

Atlas Hugged: Why Mark Sanford Likes Ayn Rand (Newsweek)

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