Barack Obama appears to know his Ayn Rand better than his Republican opponents, hurling the title of one of Rand's best-selling books at the McCain-Palin ticket in the closing stages of the campaign, saying he didn’t know when "they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness."
Remember, when Barack Obama says he "wants to spread the wealth around," he doesn't want to share his toys or his sandwich or his wealth -- he wants to take yours. He wants you to sacrifice for the sake of others: and he intends to make you. In all the calls for "change," this is the change he's after.
The problem with his latest attack however is that invocations to sacrifice are just as much a part of the Palin-McCain campaign. McCain wants Americans to sacrifice to country; Obama wants Americans to sacrifice to the whole world. But they do both demand your sacrifice.
"The point is, though, that -- and it’s not just charity," he said yesterday of his plans to "spread the wealth," and he sure as hell got that right. Taking at the point of a gun sure as hell is not charity -- a simple check of a dictionary will tell you precisely what it actually is.
"John McCain and Sarah Palin they call this socialistic," Obama continued. "You know I don’t know when, when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness."
Since Rand is being invoked, let's see what Rand herself said about selfishness, and see if any candidate understands that what's evil here is all not selfishness, but all the calls to sacrifice:
The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.
In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.
Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests.
This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions...
There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level (see “The Objectivist Ethics”).
If it is true that what I mean by “selfishness” is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others. It means that altruism permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites—that it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men—that it permits no concept of justice.
That is the great twofold tragedy here: that the popular idea of "selfishness" rules out concern for one's own interests as any sort of moral ideal, yet rational concern for one's own interests is the only rational basis for life on this earth; and that neither side understands the harmony of interests among free men, but it is only among men and women left free to pursue their own interests that such a harmony can exist. Instead, both sides oppose the concept of rational selfishness and seek to reduce real freedom -- Obama knowingly and on secular grounds; Palin-McCain out of ignorance, on religious and "patriotic" grounds.
Far from having "decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness," instead they offer no fundamental objection at all to Obama's prescription -- they differ instead only on the nature of the sacrifice they demand.
That's the greatest tragedy, says American Objectivist Paul Hsieh, that "the kind of selfishness that Ayn Rand advocated (and which Obama apparently opposes) is a completely noble and moral American virtue," yet most Americans are themselves unwilling to identify the fact, or to defend it as a virtue.
This country was founded on the principle that men and women had the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" free from government interference and tyranny.
Many immigrants (such as my parents) came to this country precisely to be able to work hard, prosper, and give their children a chance for a better life. They came to this country with little more than the clothes on their back, but did well over the years, sent two children to college and medical school, and are now enjoying a well-earned and comfortable retirement. Their lives have been a real-life embodiment of the American dream.
If we want America to remain a beacon of hope to millions around the world, we should re-affirm our commitment to free markets and capitalism, and reject calls for more socialism and "redistribution of wealth."
This country is great precisely because it allows people like my parents to attain selfish goals such as their lives and happiness. Americans should be proud of that fact, not condemn it.
So they should, if they were able to consciously understand and articulate the point.
NB: Hat tip to Craig Biddle for the title to my post, which reflects the point he made himself some months ago: "As the 2008 presidential election nears, and while John McCain and Barack Obama struggle to distinguish themselves from each other in terms of particular promises and goals, it is instructive to observe that these candidates are indistinguishable in terms of fundamentals."
UPDATE: On a related point, Lindsay Perigo points out "the likely victory of socialist Barack Obama in Tuesday's presidential election is an indictment of Airhead America."