early and often

Vivek Ramaswamy Joins 2024 Race As Yet Another Anti-Woke Crusader

Vivek Ramaswamy. Photo: Anthony Anex/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

At just 37, Vivek Ramaswamy has already made a lot of money as a biotechnology entrepreneur and a hedge-fund partner. Now he’s also the third Republican to announce they’re running for president in 2024, after Donald Trump and Nikki Haley. Ramaswamy has no experience in politics, but he apparently feels qualified to be president because he wrote Woke, Inc., a Zeitgeist-surfing 2021 book attacking corporate social-justice and diversity measures (the Ohioan is the son of immigrants from India). This led to The New Yorker dubbing Ramaswamy the “C.E.O. of Anti-Woke, Inc.” and landed him regular guest spots on Tucker Carlson’s show, where he served as a witness to the evils of “woke capitalism” and affirmative action. He’s already made proto-campaign forays into Iowa, where there was reportedly some mutual incomprehension between Ramaswamy and the politicians he encountered. But he did receive respectful attention from Iowa Republicans. Money and ideological media exposure will do that for you.

Ramaswamy is hardly the only GOP presidential candidate trying to exploit resentment of what used to be called “political correctness.” This is Trump’s wheelhouse, most obviously, and it’s also what has made Ron DeSantis the former president’s most popular (if unannounced) challenger. But Ramaswamy does have a positive unifying concept to balance out all the carping: merit. His Wall Street Journal op-ed announcing his candidacy was quite clear on that score: “It may seem presumptuous for a 37-year-old political outsider to pursue the highest office in the land, but I am running on a vision for our nation — one that revives merit in every sphere of American life.”

He proceeds to call for merit-based immigration policies; a complete abolition of any affirmative-action or diversity policy that interferes with the identification of merit by the infallible hand of markets; and a merit-based “competition of ideas” that requires government intervention to eliminate big-tech/social-media gatekeepers for opinion. He gets pretty far out there in calling for heavy-handed federal prosecution of companies that pursue the proscribed diversity policies. Even more dubious is his notion that “merit” in government means that whatever elected officials do is by definition legitimate and whatever unelected bureaucrats do is evil, which leads him to favor the complete abolition of civil-service protections for federal employees. It’s an idea that would have made Boss Tweed a hero and the civil-service reformers who sought to stop his deeply corrupt operations the villains. But it surely sounds good to MAGA folk convinced “the swamp” is as full of malevolent social-justice warriors as corporate boardrooms.

Missing from Ramaswamy’s “elevator pitch” is any explanation of how merit is established, which will be music to the ears of people who do well in life without policies aimed at identifying worthiness that is ignored by “the market” or various bosses. A Kirkus review of Woke, Inc. put its finger on the Ayn Rand–ish assumptions that underlie Ramaswamy’s take on life:

The author is angry that the Milton Friedman school of predatory corporatism — capitalism in which the only duty of the firm is to maximize shareholder return — has turned into “stakeholder capitalism,” in which corporations advance causes for the social good. …

Ramaswamy wrings his hands about what will happen to, say, the Trump supporters inside Google and demands that conservatives be accorded protected-class status under the terms of civil rights law, since he holds that the “Church of Diversity” is a civil religion whose tenets are to be questioned only at one’s peril. Here he waxes hyperbolic: “According to corporate America it’s anti-semitic to compare liberals to Nazis, but praiseworthy to compare conservatives to them.”

In the end, the reviewer says, Woke, Inc. is a “wounded right-wing yelp against companies that make moral as well as commercial decisions.”

Ramaswamy, of course, compares himself to Donald Trump in being an “outsider businessman,” as though the 45th president forever abolished all minimum qualifications for becoming chief executive. While he’s not as rich as Michael Bloomberg or Howard Schultz, he has enough money to buy some limited political credibility if he wishes. But it’s unclear if Ramaswamy’s message is that distinctive; the GOP presidential field will be full of candidates who share his desire to go back to the good old days when companies and government agencies were afflicted by lots of cronyism and nepotism, but none of this “diversity” rubbish.

Maybe Ramaswamy’s real goal is to write more books that excite the GOP base, spend more time on TV, or lay the groundwork for a less audacious political run (he reportedly thought about entering Ohio’s crowded 2022 Republican Senate contest, which was subsequently won by J.D. Vance). In any event, he’ll enjoy some attention until the 2024 field gets filled out.

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Ramaswamy Joins 2024 Race As Yet Another Anti-Woke Crusader