DOWD: Ayn Rand won’t go away and leave us alone

Keywords Forefront / Opinion

Maureen DowdIt was Ayn Rand’s nightmare: the president who gave hundreds of billions in hand-outs to homeowners, banks, car executives and various others she would have labeled “moochers” was explaining his vision of why America is great.

“It’s not the size of our skyscrapers,” President Barack Obama told cheering fans at a late-night rally this month at Chicago’s Navy Pier. “It’s not the size of our GDP.

“We also have this idea that we’re all in this together, that we look out for one another, that I am my brother’s keeper.”

Rand would have considered this warmed over, mommy party, it-takes-a-village piffle.

Obama is antithetical to Rand’s ideal man, Howard Roark, the architect of skyscrapers who violently refuses to exist for others. Paul Ryan, trying to push the cost of Medicare and Medicaid onto the old, the sick and the disabled while rewarding insurance companies with bigger profits, would be more up her alley.

You’d think that our fiscal meltdown would have shown the flaw in Rand’s philosophy. She thought we could derive morals from the markets. But we derived immorality from the markets.

She died before capitalism evolved into a vampire casino where you could bet against investments you sold to your clients, and make money off something you didn’t own or that existed only on paper.

The sexy Manichean ’toons in the novels of the goddess of capitalism don’t behave unethically. When they blow up things, it’s because they will not be sacrificial victims to evil second-raters.

Greed had a less-ennobling effect on real genius capitalists. Instead of fighting the looters, they joined the looters.

What Rand and acolytes like Alan Greenspan failed to realize is that if everyone acts in self-interest and no one takes into account the weakness to the entire system that occurs when everybody indulges in the same kind of risky behavior, the innocent and the guilty are engulfed.

Nevertheless, Rand is blazing back as an icon of the Tea Party, which overlooks her atheism, amorality in romance and vigorous support for abortion.

“Atlas Shrugged” aptly opened on Tax Day, getting a rave from Sean Hannity and a dismissive shrug from most critics, even conservatives.

“I will not pan ‘Atlas Shrugged,”’ P.J. O’Rourke wrote in a pan in The Wall Street Journal. “I don’t have the guts.”

The 1,200-page novel took Rand 12 years to write. After debuting to searing reviews in 1957, it has been going gangbusters ever since.

Al Ruddy, the charismatic producer of “The Godfather” and “Million Dollar Baby” (and a Democrat), spent decades trying to make Rand’s master work into a movie.

“Dagny Taggart is the greatest role ever written for a woman,” he said in his gravelly voice. “She’s a great executive, she’s gorgeous, and the three greatest guys in the world are all mad about her. Hot stuff about cool geniuses.”

He went to New York to talk to Rand, crowding onto a love seat at her agent’s with the tiny objectivist, who loved manly men like Ruddy. She agreed that he could focus on the love story. “That’s all it ever was,” she said.

But she wanted final script approval. “Darlink,” she told him in her Russian accent as she smoked, “I trust you, but the Russians will buy Paramount to destroy my book.”

He refused to give Rand that much control. He kept trying, including for a TNT miniseries with John Aglialoro, an exercise machine mogul who owns the rights, hoping for Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Javier Bardem.

But after 9/11, he gave up. “At the end of ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ mills, ships and mines are blown up,” Ruddy said. “And I thought, wait a second, do people really want to see a movie about America being blown up and destroyed?”

He thinks the story will have a second life with stars. “‘Atlas Shrugged’ is the most important novel of the 20th century,” Ruddy says, “It will rise again.”•


Dowd is a New York Times columnist. Send comments on this column to

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