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Presidential Elections – Ayn Rand  1932 to 1980

When Ayn Rand arrived in New York at the age of 21 in 1926 Calvin Coolidge – “The business of America is business.” – was president.  Herbert Hoover, a Progressive, won the next election (against Alfred E. Smith) in 1928. Listed below are Ayn Rand’s positions on the presidential contenders after she became a U.S. citizen in 1931. The order is Republican vs. Democrat, the eventual winner is in bold type.

1932  ·  Herbert Hoover  vs.  Franklin Roosevelt
During his term President Hoover had increased taxes and held what he called “industrial conferences,” a sort of warm up – as it turned out – to the New Deal’s National Recovery Administration. Franklin Roosevelt campaigned on a platform of low taxes, small government, and staying out of European wars – believe it or not.  Ayn Rand believed it, and voted for Roosevelt.

1936  ·  Alf Landon  vs.  Franklin Roosevelt
No public statement by Ayn Rand is available. The race was not much of a choice. Alf Landon was an oil executive and later a state governor who had welcomed much of Roosevelt’s New Deal, only objecting to parts overtly hostile to business or which were “inefficient.” If she did vote (see 1952 below) presumably she voted against Roosevelt, whose true colors by this time were apparent.

1940  ·  Wendell Willkie  vs.  Franklin Roosevelt
She felt so strongly about this election that she quit work on The Fountainhead to work for Wendell Willkie’s campaign. Willkie opposed New Deal agencies competing with private business.  (He had been president of an electric utility holding company and been economically forced to sell plants to the Tennessee Valley Authority.)  And he opposed U.S. entry into World War II.  For the three months until the election Ayn Rand worked full time without pay for the Willkie Clubs in New York. To her disappointment as the campaign progressed Willkie began me-tooing FDR.

(Not long after his defeat Willkie completely reversed his earlier views and became an ally of Roosevelt.)

1944  ·  Thomas Dewey  vs.  Franklin Roosevelt
No public statement is available, but apparently she did vote (see 1952 below) and therefore almost certainly voted for Dewey, a former New York prosecuting attorney known for going after gangsters and when governor for reducing taxes.

1948  ·  Thomas Dewey  vs.  Harry Truman
No public statement is available, but she almost certainly voted for Dewey. Truman had been vice president under Roosevelt in 1944 and he had automatically become president on Roosevelt’s death a few months into his fourth term.

1952  ·  Dwight Eisenhower  vs.  Adlai Stevenson
Eisenhower had been a five star General in the U.S. Army and Supreme Commander of the Allied forces during WWII,  U.S. entry into which enabled Stalin to overrun Eastern Europe. [1]  Adlai Stevenson (Sr.) had been part of Roosevelt’s New Deal administration, he had promoted U.S. entry into the war, and was Truman’s handpicked successor.

In the Q&A period of the sixth lecture of Leonard Peikoff’s “Philosophy of Objectivism” series (1976) Ayn Rand said that she abstained from voting in this election because she regarded both candidates as evil.  This statement was part of a remark on voting in general, which Robert Mayhew paraphrases as follows:
“You should vote only so long as you think a candidate has more virtues than flaws. But if you regard both candidates as evil, do not choose a lesser evil. Simply don’t vote. For instance, I abstained in 1952 and 1956; I didn’t vote for Eisenhower or Stevenson. Despite everything you hear to the contrary, abstaining—particularly by people who understand the issues—is a form of voting. You’re choosing ‘none of the above.’ ” [2]
Eisenhower won.  Ayn Rand commented on his presidency in 1969 during the Q&A period of her Ford Hall Forum talk “Apollo and Dionysus,”  when Richard Nixon was president. She said that though she is not an apologist for the Nixon administration:
“I think Nixon is a great improvement over his predecessors, several of them, including Eisenhower.” [3]
1956  ·  Dwight Eisenhower  vs.  Adlai Stevenson
She abstained from voting.

1960  ·  Richard Nixon  vs.  John Kennedy
No public statement is available, but she probably opted for Nixon.  (Later, in 1962, she criticized President Kennedy’s policies in several Objectivist Newsletter articles and in a talk “The Fascist New Frontier” delivered at the Ford Hall Forum.)

1964  ·  Barry Goldwater  vs.  Lyndon Johnson
When Barry Goldwater was running for the Republican nomination she wrote in “A Suggestion” (The Objectivist Newsletter, October 1963):
“... it appears, at present, that Senator Goldwater may become very much worth supporting ... most particularly because he seems to be our last chance to preserve two-party government.
...
“... At present, he is the best candidate in the field.” [4]
Her emphasis on “at present” may have been with the Wendell Willkie fiasco in mind.

As she desired, Goldwater won the Republican nomination. Here she is on his candidacy for president, in  “How to Judge a Political Candidate”  (TON  March 1964):
“If a candidate evades, equivocates and hides his stand under a junk-heap of random concretes, we must add up those concretes and judge him accordingly. If his stand is mixed, we must evaluate it by asking: Will he protect freedom or destroy the last of it? Will he accelerate, delay or stop the march toward statism?

“By this standard, one can see why Barry Goldwater is the best candidate in the field today. ...

“In an age of moral collapse, like the present, men who seek power for power’s sake rise to leadership everywhere on earth and destroy one country after another. Barry Goldwater is singularly devoid of power lust. Even his antagonists admit it with grudging respect. He is seeking, not to rule, but to liberate a [that is, our] country.

“In a world ravaged by dictatorships, can we afford to pass up a candidate of that kind?”
Into the campaign she expresses disappointment that Goldwater is softening his stand, in “The Argument from Intimidation” (TON  July 1964):
“Let us hope that the pressure of his enemies will not tempt him to compromise (in regard to the party platform, for instance) and thus to commit political suicide.”
By October 1964, in “Special Note,” she says Goldwater is headed toward defeat because of his campaign methods:
“Those who are active in the campaign should urge him to raise some essential issues, instead of the secondary matters and vague generalities he has been discussing. He has not presented a case for capitalism; he has not demonstrated the statist-socialist trend of his opponents.”
Finally, after Goldwater’s defeat, she laments in “It Is Earlier Than You Think” (TON  December 1964):
“There was no discussion of capitalism. There was no discussion of statism. There was no discussion of the blatantly vulnerable record of the government’s policies in the last thirty years. There was no discussion. There were no issues.”
She goes on to say that Goldwater attempted  “to substitute the question of personal ‘morals’ for all the crucial questions of our age, and offer it as the cardinal issue of the campaign.”

In an interview [5]  soon after Goldwater’s defeat:
“I would still say even now that of the two candidates Senator Goldwater was by far the best. ... he attempted, and that’s the best one can say for him, he attempted, he tried, to stand for free enterprise. But as I’ve also said many times before, a political campaign is not the cause of a country’s intellectual state or intellectual trend, a political campaign is the last result. In a political campaign one cashes in on the state of political or philosophical knowledge in a given society. And Senator Goldwater’s campaign illustrated perfectly the disastrous state of the political knowledge in America, not only in the choice that the electorate made but in the way that Senator Goldwater conducted his campaign.”
That was almost half a century ago.

1968  ·  Richard Nixon  vs.  Hubert Humphrey  (also George Wallace, indep.)
Supported Nixon in her article “The Presidential Candidates, 1968” (The Objectivist June 1968, published October 1968).  Though “Nixon is an advocate of a mixed economy”  he is  “on the free-enterprise side of the mixture.”  On the other hand, Humphrey  “is driven by the aspiration to emulate the New Deal’s ‘elite.’ And, like the aristocrats of the era of the French Revolution, he has ‘learned nothing and forgotten nothing.’ ”  She was even more critical of George Wallace and noted that many former Kennedy liberals were supporting him.  “It is the fact that some of his statements—as apart from and out of his context—are true and needed saying that deludes many people into the belief that he is a defender of freedom or capitalism.”

(About two and a half years later when President Nixon dictated a “wage-price freeze” she criticized his pragmatism in “The Moratorium on Brains” – The Ayn Rand Letter October 25, 1971).

1972  ·  Richard Nixon  vs.  George McGovern
Lukewarmly supported Nixon. Strongly opposed McGovern, who campaigned on a platform best described as  “redistribute the wealth.”  In an article analyzing the Democratic national convention which nominated McGovern she laments, with Nixon’s pragmatism in mind:  “If anyone can get George McGovern elected President of the United States, it will be Richard M. Nixon.”  (“The Dead End” The Ayn Rand Letter July 3, 1972.)

In  “A Preview” (The Ayn Rand Letter July 31, August 14 & 28, 1972)  she analyzes the Democratic national convention further and urges her readers not to vote for McGovern:
“If there were some campaign organization called ‘Anti-Nixonites for Nixon,’  it would name my position.  ¶  The worst thing said about Nixon is that he cannot be trusted, which is true: he cannot be trusted to save this country. But one thing is certain: McGovern can destroy it.”
In  “A Nation’s Unity” (The Ayn Rand Letter October 9 & 23, November 6, 1972)  she analyzes the Democratic national convention in even further depth, then says both Nixon and McGovern are hypocrites:
“Both have paid tributes to Americanism (i.e., free enterprise) and to altruistic statism. But here is the difference between them:  Mr. Nixon, though not a champion of free enterprise, yearns in that direction, and does not mean his tributes to altruistic statism. Mr. McGovern does not mean his tributes to Americanism.”
She goes on to say that though she is not an admirer of Nixon, his flaws are nothing compared to the bald statism espoused by McGovern:
“It is against statism that we have to vote. It is statism that has to be defeated – and defeated resoundingly.”
The last of the three installments of her article, though dated the day before the election, was apparently written and published after it – Nixon won in a landslide – for she goes on to say that the American public, in spite of the lack of intellectual leadership  “knew when to say ‘No’ loudly and clearly.”  In her next Letter, “The American Spirit” (November 20, 1972), she takes this as proof that the American people’s sense of life is still intact, that  “when the chips are down, it will break through and proclaim to the world that this is still the country of freedom and self-esteem.”

Later in the article she analyzes why intellectuals denounced Americans as “selfish” for having defeated McGovern.

After Nixon’s election she criticized his policies in several articles. Still, during the Ford Hall Forum 1973 Q&A period she said that even though Nixon’s behavior has been contemptible she would vote for him again (if it came to such a choice) over McGovern or Edward Kennedy.

Three years later she opposed the candidacy of Ronald Reagan, who ran for the Republican nomination in 1976 but lost to Gerald Ford (see below), because he advocated “a mixed economy with government controls slanted in favor of business instead of labor” (she opposed any kind of mixed economy, but she said Reagan’s was “as untenable a position as one could choose – see Fred Kinnan in Atlas Shrugged”), and because of his position on abortion. She said she would vote for him only if his Democratic opponent were someone like George McGovern or Edward Kennedy. (The Ayn Rand Letter November-December 1975.)

1976  ·  Gerald Ford  vs.  Jimmy Carter
Supported Ford before and after his Republican nomination, strongly opposed Carter – both for economic reasons.  Ford  “shows no symptoms of power-lust and no desire to run everyone’s life ... an unusual value in today’s politics.” (Ibid)

(Ford lost, mainly due to Ronald Reagan’s failure to support him.)

1980  ·  Ronald Reagan  vs.  Jimmy Carter
Did not vote for or support either candidate (see “The Sanction of the Victims” in The Voice of Reason). Strongly opposed Reagan for several reasons. One of the worst, she said, was his duplicity, instanced by his betrayal of Ford in the last election.  Several years before, in her 1976 Ford Hall Forum talk and later pamphlet essay (so far unanthologized) “The Moral Factor,” she said she was “profoundly opposed to Mr. Ronald Reagan”  and one reason was his attitude toward the Soviet Union:  “to exaggerate the power of the most incompetent nation in the world is not a patriotic service to the United States, just as fear is not the proper motive to invoke in order to inspire Americans.”

Personally Goldwater had been anti-choice regarding abortion, but legally he considered it an issue for each state to decide, it was no business of the federal government. Reagan on the other hand proposed a Constitutional amendment banning abortion throughout the country – another major reason for her refusal to vote for him.  (Q&A of the first lecture of Leonard Peikoff’s course “Objective Communication.”)

It is worth noting that Reagan chose as his running-mate George Bush (Sr.), former head of the CIA with a past in wholesale drug smuggling (a fact not yet public at the time).

(Reagan won. [6]  He had been a New Dealer in the 30s and 40s and claimed to have seen his error, yet as president he did nothing to reverse the New Deal, and brought to Washington a raft of Neoconservatives.)


That concludes our review of how Ayn Rand saw the presidential candidates during her lifetime, her “practical politics.”  Given the known facts at the time, she implemented the principles she expressed during Barry Goldwater’s campaign of 1964 – see the long quote above,  from  “How to Judge a Political Candidate.”  Elsewhere (I don’t have a reference at hand) during a race between about equally bad candidates she said it was desirable that the President and Congress belong to opposite political parties, which might introduce a little gridlock to the growth of government.

In the next parts of this series we consider how Leonard Peikoff and ARI treated the presidential candidates since Ayn Rand’s death.


1  Years later Ayn Rand wrote in “The Shanghai Gesture” (The Ayn Rand Letter  March 27, 1972), discussing the motives of those who promote war with China:
“Russia was the only winner of and profiteer on World War II – which she won not by military might (as demonstrated by the fact that she was twice defeated by Finland), but through victory over Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta. It is obvious why Russia’s rulers would dream of and gradually seek another war:  they hope that America would deliver Asia into their power, as she helped to deliver Europe.”
See also  Ayn Rand on World War II  on this website.

2  This particular remark is consistent with views she expressed in her written work, as are her other Q&A quoted here. However Q&A are not considered part of the Ayn Rand corpus. Even a genius can say something ill-considered or confusing when speaking extemporaneously, especially when there is not enough time for explanation.

Regarding the footnoted text above another consideration is involved:  the text is from the book Ayn Rand Answers edited by Robert Mayhew under the auspices of ARI.  Mr. Mayhew copyedited Ayn Rand’s recorded speech for clarity and focus. There may have been reasons for that, but in his introduction Mr. Mayhew says he went further than mere copyediting when the original  “might be taken to imply a viewpoint that she explicitly rejected in her written works.”  In other words, he changed the thought as well as the words, instead of quoting faithfully and using a footnote to explain when necessary. Thus as is his text is unreliable even as to the ideas she expressed. That said, he could not get away with much distortion – considering the pragmatic nature of ARI “get away with” is the right phrase – because audio archives are or might become available.

(No ARI transcript can be trusted. This became abundantly clear when, one after the other, ARI posted three different transcripts of Ayn Rand’s muddled comment – audience reaction contributed to the muddle – about innocents in war.)

3  This quote was transcribed directly from an audio recording of the talk.

4  According to Mr. Mayhew, two years before, in 1961, she had expressed doubts about Goldwater (Q&A of the lecture “The Political Vacuum of Our Age” given to a women journalists group in Indiana). Mr. Mayhew paraphrases:  “I’m watching Senator Goldwater with great interest and great misgivings.”  She goes on to say that though his views are flawed he is the most promising conservative candidate. She agrees with his foreign policy, disagrees with his mixed economy views noting that he advocates merely going back to fewer controls instead of advocating a fully free economy.  “Perhaps a politician cannot do so today. A politician is a man of action; he cannot fight an ideological battle and thus cannot educate the country about capitalism. The job of spreading ideas belongs to the intellectuals.”  She disagrees most of all with Goldwater’s attempt to justify free enterprise from tradition and religion.

5  Apparently one in the “Ayn Rand on Campus” syndicated radio series originating from WKCR at Columbia University.

6  With help from “October Surprise,” the perverse rubric by which a certain off-shoot of Iran-Contra is known. During Carter’s administration the U.S.-installed dictator of Iran, “the Shah,” was overthrown in a popular uprising. Student revolutionaries held hostage some Americans who had helped maintain the Shah’s power. Muslim militants hijacked the revolution and the new government eventually took the hostages from their original captors, released some of them and continued to hold the rest. Finally Iran was going to release these in October but by clandestine agreement with the vice presidential candidate Bush (Sr.) and others involved in Iran-Contra, Iran kept them until Reagan assumed office in return for money and weapons.  (The “surprise” was that the hostages were not released in October, before the election. Had they been released then, President Carter almost certainly would have won the election instead of Reagan.)

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