Weiss' main thesis is that Rand is much more influential than people realize and that, unless she is vigorously opposed by morally enlightened individuals (i.e., people who agree with Mr. Weiss), American society will be hijacked by Objectivism. He quotes ARI Director Yaron Brook's blueprint for the future: ""A hundred years from now, I think Objectivism will be the dominant secular philosophy in the United States." Weiss believes that Brook's prediction "makes logical sense." I suspect Weiss regards the threat of Objectivism as credible because he buys into the way Rand frames the debate between left and right. Weiss gives credence to the left-wing carricature of conservatism as a mean, anti-government, anti-regulation, anti-welfare state ideology. He believes, for instance, that the Tea Party advocates full "laissez-faire" capitalism, and describes Congressman Paul Ryan's plan to save Medicare "an incremental step toward a goal long favored by Objectivists — abolition of Medicare." For Weiss, right-wing economic ideology is merely a rationalization for the predatory and callous behavior of business elites on Wall Street, and he spends much of Ayn Rand Nation attempting to explain why decent people in the Tea Party buy into an ideology which, he contends, is not in their self-interest. He fails to realize that when Tea Partiers complain about over-regulation or high taxes, they are not thinking exclusively in terms of Sarbanes–Oxley or Dodd-Frank. Indeed, they may not be thinking of Wall Street at all, but of Main Street. Starting a business not only involves huge financial risks (as many businesses fail, something leftist critics of the market such as Weiss blithely ignore), but may involve wading through oceans of bureaucratic red tape. While middle class families struggle to pay their mortgages, tax burdens remain onerous. Meanwhile, local, state, and federal governments continue to amass regulations. California recently passed a law that requires child seats until a kid is at least 4'9" tall or nine years old. On the Federal level we have the immense regulatory burden of Obamacare, which is threatening to make health care unaffordable to the middle class. Regulations are so complex that they can neither be followed nor enforced. Instead, they merely give bureaucrats arbitrary power over the citizenry, as we see with the EPA, where we find public officials declaring this or that piece of private property a "wetlands," much to the detriment to the titular owners of the property. While such laws (or bureaucratic meddling) may be "well-meaning," they do come off as rather patronizing and heavy-handed, if not actually harmful and tyrannical. They are poles apart from the pioneer spirit that once prevailed in the land of the free and home of the brave.
In short, what is really driving the Tea Party and the so-called "radical" right is frustration with an overly obtrusive, wasteful, and increasingly debt-engorged government run by bureaucrats who seem to believe that, in the absence of government, most people would be incapable of looking after themselves. Whereas the Tea Party deplores the "nanny-state," Weiss regards government as a necessary and potentially beneficial presence. He paints a dark picture of an Objectivist society sans big government:
In an Objectivist world, roads would go unplowed in the snows of winter, and bridges would fall as the government withdrew from the business of maintaining them.... Airplane traffic would be grounded unless a profit-making capitalist found it in his own selfish interests to fund the air traffic control system. If it could be made profitable, fine. If not, tough luck. The market had spoken.
However undesirable we might find Rand's economic vision, are people really this helpless, this lacking an initiative, this destitute of resourcefulness? If the government didn't plow the roads or pick up the garbage, would these things not be done at all? What would happen if the government was knocked out for a bit by, let's say, an EMP bomb? Are Americans so helpless that they would be unable to survive such an attack? Would they really drown in their own garbage if the government wasn't around to pick it up? One wonders how Americans survived on the frontier, with little if any presence of government at all!
What Weiss fails to realize is that the Tea Party is not so much pro-Rand as it is anti-Left. Rand was reflexively anti-left. When the Left accused capitalists of being greedy, Rand answered, "What is wrong with that? Greed is good." When the Left rationalized their intrusions into private wealth and economic liberty on grounds of compassion and altruism, Rand replied by declaring that altruism was evil, the standard, not of life, but of death. Now while Rand's counter arguments are not particularly sophisticated or wise, they at least have the virtue of catharsis. They are emotional reactions expressing a resounding "No!" to the Left. The Tea Party is attracted to some of these Randian memes purely for their cathartic and emotional force. They feel the burden of left-wing government becoming too much to bear and wish to "shrug" it off. "Going Galt" is a Sorelian myth. It would be a mistake to take it too literally, or to read Objectivist dogma into Tea Party angst. How many Tea Partiers really want to abolish social security and medicare? I suspect very few. If their rhetoric suggests otherwise, that's merely because it's an emotional reaction, a release, not a carefully thought-out, deliberated policy.
At the end of his book, Weiss urges his leftist comrades to fight Rand on the battleground of morality:
My Objectivist friends are right that morality needs to become part of the national dialogue. However we feel about Rand, we need to ponder her views and think more philosophically. We need to evaluate our own core values, and understand the moral foundations of the social programs and government agencies that are targeted by the right. Why do we pay for medical care of the poor and elderly? Why do we regulate business? Why do we pave roads and maintain parks and build public schools? Why do we subsidize public radio, mass transit, family planning clinics, and a host of other programs that don’t always benefit ourselves?
What Weiss fails to understand is that this moral duel between Rand and the Left is a tempest over slogans and window dressing. The explicit social moralities of the Left and the Tea Party Right are mere rationalizations, one-sided reactions (or perhaps over-reactions) to legitimate gripes about difficult, sometimes insoluble problems facing the human condition. Social life confronts us with perplexing trade-offs between regulation and efficiency, externalities and regulatory over-reach, local knowledge and central control, and freedom and safety. While these trade-offs have a moral component, casting them in moral terms merely causes us to ignore the difficult issues and trade-offs involved. With the practical considerations swept under moralizing rug, the field is left clear for for less reputable operators, whether they be Wall Street speculators or agenda-driven bureaucrats. We have people in Wall Street, for example, who desire "laissez-faire," not because they actually want such a system (they don't), but merely because they do not want the government rooting out their corrupt practices. And likewise, we have regulators who, far from desiring to create conditions in which honest people can earn a living and help grow the economy, wish merely to build their bureaucratic empires and further their anti-business agendas. Always, when examining the various political and economic factions which make up a nation, one must look beyond the ideologies with which each faction attempts to justify itself and ferret out the actual behavior that is being justified.