- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Now more than ever, Americans want to be inspired by their political leaders, and true leadership is needed desperately. The economy, not just in the United States but worldwide, is in dire straits. Rapidly escalating debt, overextended entitlement programs, immigration and health care all present domestic problems that require intelligent, principled solutions. Islamic movements are gaining political traction in volatile regions like the Middle East, and established rogue states either possess or are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons.

But there is little to give inspiration in the 2012 presidential field. President Obama, who was elected in 2008 on a wave of enthusiasm and feel-good rhetoric, was a disappointment waiting to happen. The egalitarian nature of his goals coupled with the lack of capital to raid - so much wealth and human initiative had been destroyed that there was almost nothing left to loot - produced an anemic, debt-ridden economy. Mr. Obama has not led by example. He indulges in lavish, frequent vacations and campaign trips using taxpayer dollars, has set presidential records for rounds of golf played, and ignores laws that don’t suit him. First lady Michelle Obama’s lavish wardrobe and recent London lingerie shopping spree with the queen of Qatar are a symbolic slap at Americans struggling to get by. While Mr. Obama lectures Americans to “eat your peas,” Mrs. Obama laughs, “Let them eat cake.”

Republican luminaries also leave much to be desired. Look at the “final four”: an unprincipled intellectual wild card who is a proven failure as a political leader; a former governor who enacted government-run health care at the state level and has no vision for reducing the size or scope of government; a failed senator who would replace liberal, big-government programs with conservative government intrusion into people’s lives; and a serving congressman who understands that government is the problem but whose foreign-policy views are more appropriate for the age of sail and grapeshot than nuclear weapons and global terrorism. None of them has the right mix of experience, policy savvy and charisma to set the race afire, and members of the four opposing camps all wish there could be another Ronald Reagan.

Is this the best America has to offer? Has the energy and message of the Tea Party movement, in particular, gone unheeded? Why does it seem so difficult to find a candidate for president who is electable and inspirational and who truly wants to reduce the size and scope of government?


Part of the answer lies in the nature of big government itself. Frederic Bastiat, 19th-century French classical liberal theorist, wrote that when government goes beyond its proper function of protecting individual rights, when “it may violate property instead of securing it, everybody will be wanting to manufacture law, either to defend himself against plunder, or to organize it for his own profit. The political question will always be prejudicial, predominant and absorbing; in a word, there will be fighting around the door of the Legislative Palace.” When government engages in legalized plunder, the political system will produce pirates. Moreover, the electorate will be trained to support candidates who promise them increasing shares of booty seized from others in the name of fairness. The voters say they want heroes but rush to the polls to vote for scoundrels.

Bastiat attributed the willingness to engage in legalized plunder to either “egotism” (essentially, self-interest) or “false philanthropy.” He observed that men believe it is reasonable to take the fruits of others’ labor if the system has established a free-for-all. But no such systems or the politicians that establish them are willing to admit that they have erected kleptocracies. “All for all,” they say, “fair is fair.”

Ayn Rand would instead place the blame on altruism, the belief that “man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.” It is false philanthropy, because it has nothing to do with charity or benevolence. It means one must literally put others before himself. It is the only moral ideal that can justify the welfare state, and it also is the principle that causes a GOP candidate like Mitt Romney to defend “profit” on the grounds that it funds charities and pension funds. The altruist philosophy that made big government what it is today is still the primary morality held by politicians, the media establishment, the party elect and much of the electorate.

This is why Rand and others have said, “It’s earlier than you think.” Until a substantial portion of the population explicitly rejects altruism, we can’t hope for a consistent defender of individual rights to be electable. Until such a person is elected, we can’t hope to limit government to performing only its proper functions.

The choice in the 2012 election is shaping up to be between a Republican candidate who at best will slow but not reverse the growth of government and Mr. Obama, whose debt-fueled socialist dreams will wreck what’s left of America. Our only hope to short-circuit this process and to see significant change in politics during our lifetimes is for non-politicians to jump into the arena, taking full advantage of the rapid spread of ideas over social media and the opportunities presented by unlimited super-PAC campaign funding. What America needs are, as Rand described, “thinkers who [are] also men of action.” I know such men exist - if only one were running for president.

Amy Peikoff is a visiting fellow for the study of objectivism in law and philosophy at Chapman University School of Law.