Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mitt Romney, the NAACP, Ayn Rand, and Libertarian Racism

Mitt Romney is polling at about 1 percent support among African Americans. Consequently, he had nothing to lose by giving an address to the NAACP yesterday.

I will give Mitt Romney extra points for showing up before such a hard audience. Given how Romney was booed, and the unpopularity of his policies, such a speech before the NAACP took some tenacity (others would call it hubris) and strength of conviction.

However, politics is ultimately about winning friends, giving interest groups something they want in order to support you, and securing the votes of a given public: Mitt Romney fell flat in all these regards before the NAACP on Wednesday.

Consider the following. What politician, who is serious about winning over a constituency, spends time in front of one of their most important organizations, and then proceeds to tell them, to their faces, about his support for policies which would hurt them and/or are counter to their interests?

Black folks support President Obama's health care reforms. Black folks disproportionately work for federal and state governments--and are thus put out of their jobs and on the street by Romney and the Republican Party's assault on the public sector and unions. Black folks, as a group of Americans disproportionately represented among the working and lower middle classes, would see their taxes go up under Romney's proposed tax initiatives.

Yet, in a major speech before the NAACP, Mitt Romney says he will work against all of those stated interests and priorities. Riddle you that one.

Nevertheless, there is something to be salvaged from Mitt Romney's address to the NAACP. As all politicians do, across divides of party, he stuck to the approved narrative. Here, Mitt Romney recycled the typical Republican "free market" enterprise talking points about creating an "opportunity" society, using capitalist incentives to fix "broken schools," and how he would unleash "productivity" in America--as opposed to that Karl Marx wannabe corporatist Barack Obama who has brought taxes down to historically low levels.

Romney, and the Republican party's efforts to win over black voters (and people of color more generally), adheres to a tired game plan. The Tea Party GOP is infected by a type of Ayn Randian vision. This Galtian worldview of "surplus people" who deserve their fate is now a core principle of the Republican Party. Greed is good; positive liberty and the social safety net are sins. The "job providers" must be protected at all costs. The Common Good is to be damned.

Mitt Romney's proposals are a reflection of this cut throat, one against all, ethos.

The fact that Romney is offering up this vision to the NAACP is a teachable moment, what is an opportunity to discuss race, libertarianism, and Ayn Rand's political ideology.

As we have discussed here on WARN, I have long asserted that libertarianism is a philosophy better suited for the children of the rich and privileged who advocate for its virtues of independence and self-reliance, all the while spending mommy and daddy's money, than as a workable political solution to serving the Common Good.

Sadly, the influence of libertarianism remain outsized.

Ayn Rand's books are afflicted on young people as a benchmark for being "educated" and "learned," because there are powerful monied interests who support the teaching of libertarianism philosophy in our public schools and universities. 

Ironically, most students never get through her horrendous texts--and I would double down that most instructors have not either. A fact not to be overlooked, Ayn Rand herself was a hypocrite of the first order (perhaps not as bad as Ron Paul who cashes his Social Security checks) that lived out her final days on the public dole and on the government tit.

I would argue that the politicians who channel Ayn Rand's worldview are not much better than most high school or undergrad students: they recycle the talking points and have little understanding of the core substance underneath them.

Mitt Romney played that game today as well, as he stood before the NAACP, and tried to sell libertarianism to an African American audience who knew better. Libertarianism, while espousing "personal freedom," fails mightily in understanding how the rhetoric of "liberty," "freedom," and "the free market" was used to enforce white supremacy, and to historically disadvantage people of color in the United States.

Ayn Rand penned an essay on the race question and libertarianism which is well worth reading in its entirety here. Decades later it is eerily similar to how conservatives think about the relationship between white racism, the State, and black and brown communities in the present. As Romney offered up before the NAACP, all of Ayn Rand's talking points are present in the contemporary, "colorblind," "post racial" discourse of Republicans, specifically, and conservatives, more generally.

In the following quote, there is an odd mix of blaming the victim, extolling the virtues of the market, and condemning the most ugly forms of racism (while protecting the "freedom" of whites to discriminate against racial minorities).

Also, Ayn Rand, like the conservatives who are inspired by her, creates a false equivalency between the sin of white racism and those efforts to ameliorate and/or protect oppressed peoples from racial tyranny

From the essay Racism by Ayn Rand:
It is true that the Federal government has used the racial issue to enlarge its own power and to set a precedent of encroachment upon the legitimate rights of the states, in an unnecessary and unconstitutional manner. But this merely means that both governments are wrong; it does not excuse the policy of the Southern racists.
One of the worst contradictions, in this context, is the stand of many so-called "conservatives" (not confined exclusively to the South) who claim to be defenders of freedom, of capitalism, of property rights, of the Constitution, yet who advocate racism at the same time. They do not seem to possess enough concern with principles to realize tht they are cutting the ground from under their own feet. Men who deny individual rights cannot claim, defend or uphold any rights whatsoever. 
It is such alleged champions of capitalism who are helping to discredit and destroy it.The "liberals" are guilty of the same contradiction, but in a different form. They advocate the sacrifice of all individual rights to unlimited majority rule -- yet posture as defenders of the rights of minorities. But the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. 
This accumulation of contradictions, of short-sighted pragmatism, of cynical contempt for principles, of outrageous irrationality, has now reached its climax in the new demands of the Negro leaders. Instead of fighting against racial discrimination, they are demanding that racial discrimination be legalized and enforced. Instead of fighting against racism, they are demanding the establishment of racial quotas. Instead of fighting for "color-blindness" in social and economic issues, they are proclaiming that "color-blindness" is evil and that "color" should be made a primary consideration. Instead of fighting for equal rights, they are demanding special race privileges... 
It does not merely demand special privileges on racial grounds -- it demands that white men be penalized for the sins of their ancestors. It demands that a white laborer be refused a job because his grandfather may have practiced racial discrimination. But perhaps his grandfather had not practiced it. Or perhaps his grandfather had not even lived in this country. Since these questions are not to be considered, it means that that white laborer is to be charged with collective racial guilt, the guilt consisting merely of the color of his skin. 
But that is the principle of the worst Southern racist who charges all Negroes with collective racial guilt for any crime committed by an individual Negro, and who treats them all as inferiors on the ground that their ancestors were savages. 
The only comment one can make about demands of that kind is, "By what right? -- By what code? -- By what standard?"
Am I wrong to suspect that Mitt Romney is deeply familiar with this script? How do you all reconcile libertarianism and the "race problem?" 


Shady_Grady said...

Rand was a nutter. Romney is far from a libertarian. Libertarianism, like any other philosophy and more than most has limitations, contradictions and failings.

All that said though the ability to intervene in private relationships or use government coercion to force favored results also has limits, and I think that of late both the left and right are pushing up against them. We're reaching the limits both politically and simply pragmatically on some things.

It is true. Pure libertarianism has no easy answer to persistent racial discrimination other than to say it's wrong and they wouldn't choose to do it. But neither do the opposing views have any way to force changes in black housing or educational segregation which come about in part because most whites, regardless of their political leanings or geographical location, do not wish to go to school with or live next to (large numbers of) blacks.

So on this level at least, libertarianism reaches the same conclusions as black integrationists like MLK (in the final years of his life), black nationalists like Malcolm, or nationalists/radicals like Claud Anderson or Harold Cruse.

And that conclusion is that black people need to build, maintain and operate their own institutions. One could of course counter that that's a silly proposition in 2012 as opposed to 1612 but no one said things were going to be easy.

Bottom line is that as we still have freedom of association some people will use that right to our disadvantage. We need to use that right to our advantage. Again, Anderson talks about this a lot in his book PowerNomics. I just did a mini-review of that book.

ish said...

Hey CDV how do you read his remark after he's booed, "I do promise that your hospitality to to me today will be returned..." In context doesn't that come across as a bit of a threat?

A. Ominous said...


hilarious insight! said...

Nice post as always!

A. Ominous said...

"I will give Mitt Romney extra points for showing up before such a hard audience."

Romney wasn't pandering to Negroes, he was earning his Merit Badge with the hardcore target-demo. Every "boo" from a Negro was worth thousands in campaign contributions.

Ken S said...

"I would argue that the politicians who channel Ayn Rand's worldview are not much better than most high school or undergrad students: they recycle the talking points and have little understanding of the core substance underneath them."

"Am I wrong to suspect that Mitt Romney is deeply familiar with this script? How do you all reconcile libertarianism and the "race problem?" "


It sounds like an equivocation is being made between GOP talking points and libertarian theory 'proper'. Rand's article is certainly not a script or collection of talking points. It is very close to a 'core substance' for a particular world view (certainly not for libertarianism in full, even if it often gets that label without qualification). Given this, it is hard to find an interpretation where both of the above quotations can be true. I think your first observation is more likely, but it is suspiciously lacking in generality, because don't we also suspect that plenty of politicians of any persuasion unthinkingly recycle talking points that someone previously put some actual thought into? Is it more OK when non-libertarian talking points get recycled? Rand might say no:

"Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man's life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination."

Can you imagine the atavisms out there wondering to themselves if Black people are 'chemically predetermined' to vote Democrat? Perhaps this choice in voting makes more sense when conditions of class are taken into account, and I personally believe that the points made by GOP/libertarian hybrids on the issue of class leave very much to be desired. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the Democrats from time to time.

Finally, reconciling libertarianism with the "race problem" may require an application of reason that is currently beyond our (ironically, collective) grasp, consider another quote from Rand:

"“The common good” is a meaningless concept, unless taken literally, in which case its only possible meaning is: the sum of the good of all the individual men involved. But in that case, the concept is meaningless as a moral criterion: it leaves open the question of what is the good of individual men and how does one determine it?

It is not, however, in its literal meaning that that concept is generally used. It is accepted precisely for its elastic, undefinable, mystical character which serves, not as a moral guide, but as an escape from morality. Since the good is not applicable to the disembodied, it becomes a moral blank check for those who attempt to embody it."

chaunceydevega said...

@Shady. Can you elaborate on this some more: "So on this level at least, libertarianism reaches the same conclusions as black integrationists like MLK (in the final years of his life), black nationalists like Malcolm, or nationalists/radicals like Claud Anderson or Harold Cruse."

@Ish. I missed that one. Interesting read, that ominous I will teach you a lesson moment. Dude has something cold and menacing about though in that American Psycho sort of way.

@Steve. See my next post.

@Ken. I appreciate the very thorough and helpful comment. Yes, all politicians using talking points and stick to script. Consider how bastardized and misread Dr. King is by both left and right. How do we reconcile libertarianism's view of negative freedom and the state with the reality that the state has been a source of poverty liberty for blacks and other oppressed groups too.

Or to specifics, Rand and Ron Paul's lack of support for the black freedom struggle as an "unfair" "imposition" on white people's freedom and liberty?

Shady_Grady said...

Sure Chauncey.The classical libertarian, when forced to face evidence of free market discrimination, which to be honest MOST of them won't, will come down on the side of the property owner's freedom to do as he pleases with his own property. And if you don't like it, then get your own property and you can do what YOU like with it.

So if you want to run a business and refuse to cater to blacks, or if you want to move out of a black neighborhood or refuse to use black professionals you are free to do so and also free to reap the costs or benefits of that decision.

Obviously I won't go that far. I do recognize that there are times that the government does have the right and duty to step in. The South pre 1970 so was one of those times.

But what Cruse, Malcolm, and Anderson were all saying is why is it that we (black people) are constantly agitating to be admitted to white institutions where we will continue to be discriminated against instead of focusing on building our own organizations.

To SE Michigan where I live the liquor store and grocery store and gas station business is dominated by people of Middle Eastern descent while the beauty supply business is dominated by people of East Asian descent. Many of these people are recent immigrants to our country. Yet they control particular business niches in black communities despite black people having been there for multiple decades before they arrived. So why is it that black people are still protesting and agitating that these people won't hire us or don't treat us with respect or so on instead of building and patronizing our own businesses.

That's what the men listed would advise us to do and though it is for different reasons, that would also be the libertarian response.

chaunceydevega said...

@Shady. You know I feel you there.

It is tragic that we can't even control basic indigenous economies in our own communities. But, as you know, the problem is systemic--racism was about the destruction of black capital and resources, that has created intergenerational wealth inequality. Marable's How Capitalism Destroyed Black America is a classic on this one. Hell, the destruction of black wall streets all over this country reverberate to this day. Add on internalized white racism and the game is deep.

I am fascinated by libertarianism and race; it is a philosophy that only seems to work for the powerful. If you ain't got it too bad. Thus, as a philosophy libertarianism seems horribly ill equipped to deal with matters of justice. I just can't cede my my liberty and freedom to others "rights" to violate it. You are onto something here re: racism and libertarianism that I wanted to post on for a while.

chaunceydevega said...

@Shady. self-correcting. The book is "how capitalism under-developed black america."

Ken S said...


"How do we reconcile libertarianism's view of negative freedom and the state with the reality that the state has been a source of poverty liberty for blacks and other oppressed groups too.

Or to specifics, Rand and Ron Paul's lack of support for the black freedom struggle as an "unfair" "imposition" on white people's freedom and liberty?"

Well, just to be clear, I'm no Randian or Paul supporter and I haven't read any of Rand's works. My last quotation was courtesy of Google and a bit of luck. So the following is more or less an overly-simplistic extrapolation from what I know about libertarianism in general, nothing specific to what Rand or Paul's viewpoint on this issue might be (or any other libertarian, really):

The purer libertarians are really ticked off *in general* about the whole entire enterprise of 'unfair impositions' that they consider 'the state' to be. Through the course of the entire history of the entire globe, you could argue that the injustices towards African-Americans in the past are a relatively small contribution to the *total* amount of human suffering caused by the state implementing bad policies. So based on this, they take a hard line and say 'no state, beyond protection for property', and are really, really skeptical and demanding about any proposed exceptions, if they even want to entertain any exceptions in the first place.

Of course, I don't necessarily agree with the rhetoric about the state, but I do think the above is the shape of a respectable viewpoint. The problem as you point out is certainly what should be done about past injustice: it might be a total disaster to simply start recognizing strict property rights (or selectively moving towards that goal), taking the current distribution of property (acquired under unjust circumstances) as a starting point. There is no doubt a moral hazard here with the GOP 'party of the rich' selectively advocating for a 'free market' with no redistribution beforehand. Although going back to Rand's quote: we still have to determine what is good, and 'the other guys' aren't necessarily doing a good job of that...

OTB said...

@ Ish (& CD)

Both the context and the timing of Romney's remark you quote might be important. He was booed during the 29th paragraph of his speech (for saying he'd eliminate Obamacare). His comment about hospitality came some eighteen paragraphs later (as his printed remarks reveal on multiple sites).

Here's the full quote in question:

I can’t promise that you and I will agree on every issue. But I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned. We will know one another, and work to common purposes. I will seek your counsel. And if I am elected president, and you invite me to next year’s convention, I would count it as a privilege, and my answer will be yes.

If Romney pre-planned this "threat" in response to being booed, he's a far shrewder politician than I could imagine.

OTB said...

PS: I didn't hear Romney's speech, but a commentator (black) noted that he was applauded 27 times during a 25 minute presentation.

Anonymous said...

Reading that Ayn Rand excerpt, I can say if there really is a difference between Republicanism and Libertarianism. Each point she made seems to be a talking point I have heard from one conservative or another. I did read Atlas Shrugged, all of it. I have no opposition to the the idea of personal responsibility, of working your way up. I never expected that the principles would actually be employed as it was in. 2008. This is where I find contradiction in the priciples. How is it advocating the freedom to rise or fall individually, when you're collaborating to push the gauntlet and force outcomes? These people want the freedom to interact with the collective (the public) but don't want to be encroached (as if Ayn Rand should speak of encroachment) upon when their efforts prove detrimental to the collective. Just like the "trickle down" theory, the ideas look great on paper but in practice, does not work.

As to the fear that blacks seek to punish whites for the sins of the father, i can't speak for ll blacks but, i think our opposition to libertarianism is to prevent the past from becoming the future. The more upward mobility that blacks acheive, the more the goal post shifts. More blacks were becoming college educated and hiring requirement wnet fron associate to bachelors in private enterprise. They went into manufactoring jobs with unions and public sector jobs that had to hold to standards, in order to propel themselves into the middle class, then the public sector and unions became the enemy.

Libertarianism and conservatism takes the stand that individuals are fair and benevolent and only seek what is good for society and therefore good for business. If Wall Street, Enron and various other companies have not dispelled that myth yet, one only needs to look at many of the heirechal structures of many companies where cronyism is evident. Many of those hirees know nothing of the business and rely on their underlings. Why would something like that exists if the true objective is the good of the business?

Anonymous said...


Rand's a hack. I have the same contempt for her and her followers that many have for the homeless. She doesn't quite stack up to her contemporaries. Her stupidity when it comes to interdependence is troubling for one that's supposed to be a serious thinker.

Her followers can't seem to think past her dumbass ideas. I remember someone said on a well known cable news show that "the market stopped child labor." How do you debate someone that is divorced from facts? You can say the same thing about the race question. Did the market take down the whites only signs? What do you say for people that worked hard and still couldn't succeed? Rand's philosophy is stillborn but her adherents are keeping the corpse on life support.

You have to understand where Rand is coming from. She was well off before the Bolshevik Revolution. She had no idea how the people that weren't well off were living under czar Nicholas. The revolution wouldn't have went anywhere without popular support. Her privilege blinded her to what's going on in her home country. It looks as if she never let her blindness go. She missed the history where the government policy led to American prosperity. When did libertarians have to know anything about history to justify their theories?

I'll give another example of how simple her students are. One of them claimed to have solved David Hume's problem of induction in a Youtube video. That's almost as good as proving that God exists.

Comrade Physioprof said...

Romney wasn't pandering to Negroes, he was earning his Merit Badge with the hardcore target-demo.

Exactly. The whole point was for Romney to get publicly booed so that he could then go and talk to his racist white base (as he did the next day) and talk about how "those people" are just lazy freeloaders who of course booed his message of "self reliance" because they just want "free stuff" from the government. Romney wasn't in front of the NAACP to talk to its members at all. Their disgusted reactions to him are nothing but a prop in the construction of his racist narrative.

A. Ominous said...

We are SO on to that game.