Ohio’s horse in the first Republican presidential primary debate struts with the confidence of a Preakness thoroughbred. Cincinnati native Vivek Ramaswamy is turning heads as a slick, self-assured newcomer with all the charm and charisma of Harold Hill, the fast-talking traveling salesman in The Music Man.
Hill is a poser trying to con the naïve townsfolk of River City, Iowa. Ramaswamy is another fast-talking character traveling the small-town circuit, flashing smiles, selling subjective “truth,” and glad-handing the good people of Iowa to place second or third in the state’s GOP caucuses.
Ramaswamy’s performance on the stump is as impressive as “Professor” Hill’s but hardly benign. Scratch the surface of the huckster sporting a hat with “Truth” emblazoned across the front and you’ve got trouble with a capital T. Behind the glib 38-year-old’s telegenic veneer and articulate spiel is a distinctly authoritarian mindset.
The former biotech executive worth a fortune — and self-funding an audacious ego trip to be president — presents as an engaging millennial extrovert. A breath of fresh air in a GOP field of uninspiring retreads. What’s not to like? Turns out a whole lot.
Ramaswamy scoffs at the notion of accelerating global warming; temperatures rising exponentially; and extreme floods, wildfires and staggering heat (July was the hottest month on Earth ever) as an existential threat to humanity. “That’s a religious conviction, not a scientific conviction,” he declares as he embraces fossil fuels and their toxic emissions as essential to human prosperity.
Never mind that coal, oil and gas are by far the largest contributors to global climate change, accounting for over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Ramaswamy promises to abandon “the anti-carbon agenda in this country” if elected. “We will drill more; we will frack more; we will burn more coal…without apologizing for who we are as Americans.”
Ramaswamy also pledges to shut down “the administrative state” and eliminate government agencies starting with the FBI, IRS and the Department of Education. “I stand on the side of revolution,” says the rich guy who came out of nowhere. “We need a revival of the American Revolution and its ideals” such as “self-governance over aristocracy” and free speech without “elite interference,” explained the aristocratic alum of elite Ivy League universities who vows to govern unilaterally.
This budding ideologue is a bundle of contradictions. Ramaswamy pitches himself as the voice of younger voters, then proposes to disenfranchise most of them by raising the voting age from 18 to 25. He’d allow 18-year-olds to vote only if they perform six months of military or first responder duty or pass a civics test first. Basically, remove millions of largely Democratic-leaning Gen Zers (with exceptionally high voter turnout) as a Republican threat.
Ramaswamy jumped on the “anti-woke” idiocy big in the right-wing media bubble (and nowhere else). He bemoans how diversity (“not our strength”) and “new secular religions like Covid-ism, climate-ism and gender ideology” have replaced “faith, patriotism and hard work.”
He suggests that our “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) society has suffered from the many. He blames excessive pluralism seduced by “left-wing ideology” for causing a “national identity crisis.” Follow? The practicing Hindu showcases his 10 commandments of certainties on the trail, starting with “God is real,” (although with many manifestations, according to most Hindus) and “There are two genders,” both deal-closers with evangelicals.
Ramaswamy loops in the usual right-wing constructs about “open borders” and parents’ rights in education (as if parents were sidelined from schools all these years). But he channels his inner extremist when he envisions himself filling a “moral vacuum” in the country and reasserting “what it means to be an American today.”
He pledges to hold the “police state” accountable for indicting Trump (whom he has committed to pardon should multiple juries of his peers criminally convict him) while bizarrely invoking the “one rule of law” that “makes America unique.” He portrays the federal charges against the disgraced ex-president — for trying to overthrow our democracy and for a brazen coverup involving stolen national security documents — as “un-American” and an “awful precedent.”
Lost to Ramaswamy is the awful precedent of a former U.S. president whose lies about a rigged election culminated in a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol by a Trump mob out to hang the vice president and forcefully prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Instead, he bleats about “corrupt federal police” coming after a political opponent at the behest of “one politician” and rationalizes mob justice.
“If you tell people they cannot scream, that is when they tear things down. I think that’s exactly what happened on Jan. 6. If we fail to admit the truth, Jan. 6 will just be a preview of far worse to come and I don’t want to see us get there.” We’re there, Harold Hill, and you want to start a revolution infused with militant far-right fervor.Truth is, your 15 minutes of delusional narcissism and alarming extremism is nearly up. Perhaps a little public service back home in Columbus will satisfy your “hunger for meaning,” though I doubt it. Like the twice-impeached criminal defendant facing 91 felony counts across four indictments, you crave attention, a platform, and unlimited power to wield as a despotic cudgel.
This commentary was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.