Charlie Peters, a self-described "neoliberal" who edited The Washington Monthly, told me many years ago that the problem with liberals is they see themselves as heroes in a novel. Many conservatives today do the same thing, and they know just the novel: Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged."
My friends at the Atlas Society have posted an interview with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-WI, an excessively devoted fan of the book. Much like Rand, he insists on reducing every policy issue to a simple fight for freedom against government oppression. He says business people can't operate under current policies. He thinks Americans support big government because they suffer from "Stockholm Syndrome." He says Obamacare is "the greatest assault on freedom in my lifetime."
Oh, really? If business is being strangled by regulation and taxes, why has the stock market repeatedly hit new highs since President Obama took office? How can he compare the health care law, as an assault on freedom, with Republican President Richard Nixon's wage and price controls? Does he really regard his constituents as helpless hostages whose minds have been warped by their captivity?
When Rand wrote the book in 1957, Communism was advancing, socialism had many fervent believers and the top tax rate was 90 percent. Johnson seems unable or unwilling to see the many ways in which we are freer now than we were then. Those changes not only undermine his alarmism but discredit the theory that programs like those enacted in the New Deal could only lead us down inexorably into slavery.
The problem is not that Johnson read "Atlas Shrugged," a book that is well worth reading. It's that he seems to think it's non-fiction.