If you accept the conventional wisdom about anti-woke crusader and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, he’s the Republican version of Andrew Yang, the compelling, yet obscure long-shot candidate from the Democratic presidential primary field in 2020. On the other hand, Ramaswamy may be this cycle’s Trump, the candidate who comes out of nowhere, defies expectations and ascends because he knows how to master modern communication tools and has a message that is the most tapped into today’s “zeitgeist,” or mood of the moment.
Ramaswamy entered the race promising to address our “national identity crisis.” He says, “Faith, patriotism & hard work have disappeared. Wokeism, climatism & gender ideology have replaced them. We hunger for purpose yet cannot answer what it means to be an American. We long for that answer. That’s why I’m running for President.”
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Ramaswamy wants to reboot the shared American idea that our rights don’t come from the state and aren’t defined by our race, gender, or ethnicity (i.e. identity politics). Instead, he wants to rally Americans around the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
As I wrote in the Dispatch this week, the two challengers who have officially announced, Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley, show that a “normal” (not moderate) conservative candidate can win the nomination. The center of gravity in today’s GOP is still Reaganism more than Trumpism. I explained:
Ramaswamy’s message has much more in common with Reaganism (and our founders) than Trumpism, which is really a one-legged stool comprised of one man’s instincts and whims. Case in point: Ramaswamy’s call to defund the Department of Education is straight out of the GOP’s 1990’s playbook and is completely at odds with so-called leading “Trump intellectual” Sohrab Ahmar who says we must be, “FOR the administrative state.”
Still, Ramaswamy’s message contains some off notes and cognitive dissonance. He rightly wants to avoid overt nostalgia and “1980’s slogans” yet he often repeats the 1940’s slogan “America First” and promises to bring about “America First 2.0.” If Ramaswamy wants to succeed in helping America’s rediscover our shared national identity, he’ll have to fight off not just the identity politics crowd but also “national populists” who want to define America as a place more than an idea. Promoting border security is the right policy for myriad sound reasons, but American exceptionalism has never come from our borders but rather from our beliefs. Reducing our national identity to geography is as corrosive as bowing to the “woke mob” on gender.
On climate, Ramaswamy is right to criticize the doctrinaire and often anti-science positions of the woke left, such as opposition to nuclear energy or lower-emissions fracking. And he’s right to call out the left’s hypocrisy. In Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam one episode about a tree planting “service day” from his internship at Goldman Sachs speaks volumes:
This offense is being repeated on a geopolitical scale. For instance, it’s immoral to virtue signal on climate while ignoring human rights violations that happen when we depend on authoritarian regimes for critical minerals. Yet, the best way to counter “climatism” is by promoting economic freedom and persuading people with sound arguments, such as the fact that free economies are twice as clean as less free economies.
To his credit, Ramaswamy has shown a willingness to be an equal opportunity critic when it comes to the politics of victimization. He writes in his latest book, Nation of Victims: Identity Politics, the Death of Merit, and the Path Back to Excellence:
Ramaswamy is right to campaign around our “national identity crisis.” Yet, our national leadership crisis is an equally grave one.
On Friday, Ramaswamy is scheduled to speak at CPAC (the annual Conservative Political Action Conference). He should use his speech to tell the political class and activists hard truths about the consequences of replacing conservatism with victimization. America has plenty of politicians, commentators, social critics and authors. Ramaswamy can be another one and do quite well. Or he can take risks and be a leader who defies expectations.