Ayn Rand Got Government Money, and the Tea Party Should Therefore Fold…?

Alas, another human being flawed! Another hypocrisy to rip with edgy ad hominem knives, and then zip away to new targets! Ayn Rand obtained social security and Medicare payments after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Oh the delicious irony of it! And (putting to one side the horrible misery of lung cancer), oh the delightful opportunity to flay the Tea Party.

Here’s what boingboing.net posted:

Noted speed freak, serial-killer fangirl, and Tea Party hero Ayn Rand was also a kleptoparasite, sneakily gobbling up taxpayer funds under an assumed name to pay for her medical treatments after she got lung cancer.

An interview with Evva Pryror, a social worker and consultant to Miss Rand’s law firm of Ernst, Cane, Gitlin and Winick verified that on Miss Rand’s behalf she secured Rand’s Social Security and Medicare payments which Ayn received under the name of Ann O’Connor (husband Frank O’Connor).

As Pryor said, “Doctors cost a lot more money than books earn and she could be totally wiped out” without the aid of these two government programs. Ayn took the bail out even though Ayn “despised government interference and felt that people should and could live independently… She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”

But alas she did and said it was wrong for everyone else to do so.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. That’s rich.

Sorry, again, to be the killjoy, because I know how much fun these “gotcha” moments can be. But I have several problems with this post. It’s an emblem of the breezy decline of political discourse on so many levels.

First, please weigh in with facts about Rand’s writings, fictional or otherwise, but I’m not aware of anywhere where she said it’s wrong ever to accept government money pursuant to a program to which you validly qualify. Certainly concerning social security and Medicare — to which one has paid directly throughout one’s employed life –getting the benefit back of one’s own money to which one has paid one’s own money, after getting lung cancer, might not be so hypocritical.

Second, I haven’t studied Ayn Rand’s biography, but I’m certainly open to the proposition that she could be remarkably unpleasant. And her unpleasantness, whatever forms it may have taken, had exactly what to do with what? Mahatma Gandhi had this to say at an early point in his life: “We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do. … We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.” What the man nevertheless accomplished was profound and inspiring. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and may have fathered a child from one of them. I do not, and Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly did not, discredit the Declaration of Independence as a consequence. Human beings are deeply flawed, and nevertheless capable of greatness.

Third, the point of the boingboing post is plainly to say the asserted “Tea Party hero,” and the Tea Party by extension, is hypocritical — and therefore, what? Even if Ayn Rand were hypocritical, and even if Ayn Rand mattered in some iconic way to most Tea Party members — how would that differentiate the Tea Party from every movement and revolution in history, including the American Revolution, with its “hypocritical” founding fathers speaking of equality? Confront the Tea Party on the merits — but do not assume that it’s intelligent engagement simply to slam a long-dead woman on false grounds whom you insist, with a single picture of a sign, must represent the Tea Party. That’s not disagreeing with the Tea Party. That’s adolescent “gotcha” politics on an embarrassingly flimsy basis.

Fourth, there is a deep confusion in our political dialogue between hammering the person who speaks and believing the speech itself has been successfully hammered. Boingboing’s lustiest ad hominem — “serial killer fangirl” — is a perfect case in point of repugnant ad hominem politics.

“Serial killer fangirl” refers to a 1928 Ayn Rand journal entry, where she quoted the statement, “What is good for me is right,” from William Edward Hickman, and then wrote: “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.” William Edward Hickman was a particularly grisly serial murderer.

The essay purporting to condemn Ayn Rand for this 23-year-old horror, concludes, “it seems to me that Ayn Rand’s uncritical admiration of a personality this twisted does not speak particularly well for her ability to judge and evaluate the heroic qualities in people.” Really? Possible, isn’t it, that Rand didn’t actually admire Hickman at all, much less “uncritically”? Possible, isn’t it, that Rand seized upon a line at age 23 that appealed to her, a line, not a man? Possible, isn’t it, that Rand wasn’t actually a “fangirl” of “serial killer” William Edward Hickman?

Fifth, what has any of this to do, really, with the basic proposition of limited government? Are we to conclude that Ayn Rand accepted certain government benefits, therefore government benefits are good? Are we to conclude that Ayn Rand accepted certain government benefits, therefore skepticism about big government is bad?

No, we continue to debate, on the merits, the proper role of government, and how to pay for it, without recourse to sideshows about the personal lives of people who may have contributed to the debate.


11 Responses to Ayn Rand Got Government Money, and the Tea Party Should Therefore Fold…?

  1. Paul Grubbs says:

    boing boing shrug shrug

  2. Snoring Dog Studio says:

    Excellent post. We’re all too mired down in hyperbole, implication, insinuation, hints of things that seem to be correlated or that reveal truth – yet really don’t. People take a view of history, distort it and then it gains traction and becomes reality. It’s all so tiring to wade through the muck and get to the important issues – about the proper role of government, how to help the economically disadvantaged without creating helplessness and powerlessness, and how to develop a definition for personal responsibility that isn’t horribly heartless. But we’re all too much leading with emotion and gotcha-ism. How do you direct the conversation away from that? A good start would be to require better, more rational behavior from our elected representatives and a zero tolerance for BS. Thank you for this post.

  3. Bruce Castleberry says:

    Think the point being, if someone says they don’t believe the government should pay for something, the honest stance is to not accept that support. If Rand was publicly against receiving gov’t. funds yet used them, she was hypocritical to do so. If someone says they don’t think people should have gov’t.-paid health care, it is hypocritical to accept it. Thus any government worker, say for example a member of Congress, has stated they do not think the gov’t. should pay for their health care, it would be hypocritical to accept that health care. Yes?

    Similarly, if someone is opposed to abortion, do not get one. Bottom line for me is, live your values. Don’t make sweeping statements of principle that you don’t personally adhere to.

    • Not sure I agree Bruce. I don’t believe it’s a logical inconsistency to oppose the existence of a government program, yet be its beneficiary, as a qualified applicant, as long as it DOES exist. Your position confuses, I think, playing by the existing rules versus seeking to change the rules. In any game, I may object strenuously to a certain rule — think it manifestly unfair, even destructive of the spirit of the game — but I’m nevertheless fully within my rights (indeed, obliged) to play by that rule as long as it exists. That said, there are categories of opposition that DO oblige me, if I wish to be honorable, to live my life accordingly. These are moral categories. If I loudly insist that abortion or sexual infidelity is immoral, then I would be a hypocrite nevertheless to get an abortion or engage in sexual infidelity. That’s because I’ve established a moral position with respect to behavior. Behavior x or y is bad. You shouldn’t do it, therefore I shouldn’t do it (as a proposition of moral logic). Health care and welfare, and similar government benefits, don’t fall into this category. The target of the opposition isn’t that receiving such benefits is per se immoral. It’s that government shouldn’t be in that business — for reasons having nothing to do with the morality of receiving the benefits.

      • poppies says:

        Excellent response. It’s certainly not inconsistent with a position of being against theft to try to regain one’s stolen goods.

      • Bruce Castleberry says:

        Not familiar enough with Rand’s position to know if she felt accepting government support was a moral issue. But to me that’s splitting hairs. If she felt it was wrong for the government to provide that support, but she accepted it nonetheless, that’s hypocritical behavior.

        Politicians say they’re against certain things, then wind up voting for them. Very few have the courage of their convictions when it is no longer politically expedient. If someone says they’re against new taxes, I expect them to stick to that or have a damn good reason that I’ll buy when they cave in. Obama pledged to shut down Gitmo. Didn’t do it. We’re also still involved in Asian wars. Why? A lot of promises were made that he didn’t keep and I’ll vote with these in mind in 2012 and beyond.

        Similarly, a lot of those voted into office in the 2010 midterms vowed to vote against government-funded health care. Yet to my knowledge all are now accepting government-funded health care. That’s hypocrisy. Just because something is allowed doesn’t make it OK. If it did, then the anti-choice people wouldn’t have much to gripe about.

        • Bruce, I have to defend the president. 🙂 His pledge to shut down Gitmo, while wildly popular with his base and many moderates, simply didn’t turn out to be practical. He discovered certain realities once in office, and likely discovered that closing Gitmo was just a bad idea (though we won’t know for a long time, or at least until next week on WikiLeaks, what highly classified intelligence might have informed his calculation that closing Gitmo posed unacceptable security and other costs). I’m assuredly not defending making specious, empty or cynical promises. I just don’t believe the president’s campaign position on Gitmo was any of these. Presidents are (or should be) pragmatic policy executors, not automatons driven by partisan checklists.

          I do believe one can play cynical word games that become unacceptable hypocrisy during campaigns and in office. For example, the president insisting that the health care law would not raise taxes, and then going into court and defending its constitutionality on the basis, in part, that it was a “tax” pursuant to Congress’ taxing power — well, that’s cynical.

          On the original point, I still make a distinction between government transfers of money and categorical behavioral issues. If I’m an honorable farmer who believes the American farm subsidy program has gotten completely out of control, and I’m even willing to vote for politicians who would change it, I don’t believe it’s dishonorable of me to continue to accept subsidies for which I validly qualify. To decline, when all the farmers around me continued taking the subsidies, would almost certainly put me out of business. In some cases, losing your livelihood might be an appropriate cost of principle. But here, I’m not saying it’s misconduct for farmers to accept the lawful subsidy. I’m saying it’s a subsidy government shouldn’t be giving, that it’s *government* misconduct to give away money for that purpose. Conversely, if I say abortion should be illegal except under specified circumstances, and I get an abortion outside those specified circumstances, then I’m being hypocritical because I’m saying the abortion itself is misconduct.

  4. whiteylawful says:

    I am not a fan of such intellectualism, nor those that get their politics from adopting anothers theories; wich are disingenuine to me. There are intellectuals that write about what is already taking place socially. Then there are those in intellectual circles that speak: as if one intellectual or the other has something to do with forming and/or guiding a social movement.

  5. lachiqui says:

    Thanks Kendrick for putting the proper light on the issue for me, i was kinda of worried because when you think like Ayn does, it’s impossible to act otherwise.
    About the correct or the incorrect: suppose i don’t agree with paying taxes, of any kind, and i have my reasons (valid to me) so i’m an hypocrite because i pay them? or if i don’t pay them i may go to jail? i can pay them while i continue my “fight” to get things changed, but that only means i’m Also a law abiding citizen.
    As Kendrick correctly says: Government money it’s NOT own by the government, it’s being guarded by it; it’s OUR money, that we give to the head of JANITORS, to distribute among the particular themes janitors, to keep our building in proper shape while we engage in our own interest without having to think that i have to go out today to put my corresponding light of the lamppost of the street, or go take my bag of garbage not to the front of my house but to the municipal place… wait!!! that’s on the government/janitor list of to do’s also!, so the existence of a government HAS a meaning, and Ayn agrees with it: to keep the building/country working properly for all who inhabit it, when they loose it’s purpose all thing she draws in Atlas Shrugged start to happen.
    Ayn i’m sure payed her taxes (does she agree or not with it), and her books payed the proper taxes (the book company had to do it if it wanted to keep publishing, didn’t they?), and her husband; and sure thing payed the money the law said should go to things like Medicare: OUR money, put together trough the Janitor to afford the medical buildings with it’s unique necessities that it’s illogical each one had at home, That’s why it have sense to paid for medicare or similars, but it’s still OURS to use.
    For those who Really understand Rands work, it’s OBVIOUS that she didn’t agree with the butchery of the killer, that’s a perversion equal to all the perversions the “bad guys” did in her books; BUT the phrase by itself it’s in concordance with her philosophy, so she considered it a nice phrase to quote in her Personal diary; and if it was at 23 years old, sure thing it helped to something good: to develope her philosophy: that human beings had a brain, and it’s proper to use it with it mayor capability To Reason, To Be Logic!; the fact that a man with his brain bad cabled thought proper and logic to him the killing of others, doesn’t make the phrase an abomination.
    To aaaaalll of you people out there that oppose Ayn work, may the Force be with you, because when you wake up out of your foolishness; you will think that killing yourself it’s the only way out, and yes you ARE thinking in a perverted dream. Who am i to say so? i’m one who actually lives in a country where aaaaaalllllll the perversions she putted in Atlas Shrugged are Actually Happening by the book (even the 3 trains crash IN a tunnel, only difference being that God protect us so much that nothing exploded and the train condutor reacted on time to avoid major killings because of the crash), in the same order, because the same reasons she puts, with the same arguments EVEN the “we are doing all this for Love to the people”); i’m one that can assure you: Ayn was right, that kind of people IS PURE EVIL, because they don’t do things at least to profit, they do it to conquer the world trough fear:
    One last reflection to all those bad guys from Comic books (because that’s the kind of without – purpose – evil they are): let’s suppose you evil guys made it… the world, correction, the starving soulless world is in fact completely yours, your work is done… now what? what are you going to do? there’s nothing of value left not even people, everyone it’s at your command, waiting your orders… what are you going to ask of them? i really wish to know this, to see if i can find some LOGIC REASON to their destructive actions.
    a little long, but again thanks mr. Kendrick for the clarifying post 😀

    • lachiqui says:

      a little long my post, not yours hehehe

  6. Tomwins says:

    My real concern is not about her hypocrisy as much as how her accepting government assistance for medical and living expenses shows her system is flawed. The hypocrisy that bothers me is when her beliefs are being held up as an ideal in order to destroy Medi-care but not to destroy the military industrial complex. To the contrary, most those who want to destroy the social safety net want to build up the US militarism.

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