The plan, some 50 years ago, was to write the great American novel. That was before I realized my attention span was only about 15 inches long. So I became a newspaper columnist.
But back then, to prepare myself, I became a voracious reader of novels.
I went through all of Fitzgerald and some of Hemingway. I studied the popular writers of the day, Herman Wouk and Leon Uris, as well as an obscure but rather controversial writer named Ayn Rand.
I discovered Rand when I picked up The Fountainhead,'' a book I couldn't put down. It was about a young architect named Howard Roark (modeled loosely, I am told, after Frank Lloyd Wright). The gifted Roark struggled with the confines of convention and the artistic restrictions and regulations forced on him by government.
The Fourtainhead,'' published in 1943, gave but a taste of Rand's conservative, anti-government views.
She really let loose in Atlas Shrugged,'' an epic novel that had romance, heroism and philosophy. The philosophy, especially her so-called Objectivism,'' mostly flew over my head -- as it still does today.
Ojectivism, as my uncultivated mind understood it, was a laissez faire philosophy of rational self-interest in which the best and the brightest were allowed to succeed with little or no government restriction.
Atlas Shrugged'' offered a utopian world inhabited by an elite corps of men and women would could go about their business without the stultifying interference of government. That world had no place for collectivism or entitlements or welfare, all of them anathema to Ayn Rand.
I've always understood what rational self-interest meant for an Edison or Ford, a Stephen Jobs or a Bill Gates, even a Sam Walton or, yes, a Barack Obama -- all extraordinary individuals who would succeed in any era, under any circumstances.
But I never understood where her philosophy left the rest of us, we ordinary humans just trying to get from one day to the next. I don't think Rand's world held much room for us.
Jennifer Burns, in Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right,'' largely credits Rand for the rise in conservatism since Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964. Her early disciples were Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp (who mentored a young Paul Ryan). Recent successes of the Tea Party have brought Rand's libertarian theories back into vogue.
Indeed, Burns has called Atlas Shrugged'' a gateway drug to life on the right.'' And who's to argue? Ryan, the GOP vice presidential candidate, even distributed copies to his staff to make sure they were properly grounded in Ayn Rand's philosophy.
I'll confess that shortly after my Ayn Rand soiree, I became a diehard Barry Goldwater supporter myself, even placing an Au H20'' bumper sticker on my swell 1956 Olds. (My poor mother, a lifelong Democrat, was beside herself.)
It took a few semesters of college, a divisive Vietnam War, and long, hard struggles to pass civil rights laws and Medicare to turn me back to my roots and to my own set of values.
I came to believe that most of us had little in common with Ayn Rand and I'm more than a little stunned to see so many espousing her views in this election season. Who knew?
Contact BOB BESTLER at firstname.lastname@example.org.