It was the proverbial water cooler moment: While standing in a gaggle of her colleagues at the Cato Institute, Jennifer Grossman, director of the nonprofit’s education policy program, heard somebody ask, “Who is John Galt?” Name didn’t ring a bell. “Yes, who is John Galt?” Jennifer echoed. Seriously, Jennifer, John Galt is just the hero in Atlas Shrugged, the Ayn Rand novel beloved of libertarians. The more advanced Randians might even sip their coffee from mugs emblazoned with the words, “Who Is John Galt?” That is the question posed in Atlas Shrugged, which came out in 1957.
“Everybody kind of laughed and nodded and thought I was making a joke,” Grossman recalled. “Then a colleague, José Piñera, with whom I was working with on pension reform, pulled me aside and said, ‘I don’t know how they let you in the door without your having read Atlas Shrugged, but you better go home and do that right now.’ And I did. And I read it in a matter of days, and I was completely hooked.”
So hooked that Grossman is today CEO of the Atlas Society, which is dedicated to promoting the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. “Objectivism is designed as a guide to life, and celebrates the remarkable potential and power of the individual. Objectivism also challenges the doctrines of irrationalism, self-sacrifice, brute force, and collectivism that have brought centuries of chaos and misery into the lives of millions of individuals,” the website sums up. Grossman herself is a combination of glamour and thrusting intellectuality—she is pictured on the Atlas Society website in a bright red dress sporting a big gold dollar sign, the appropriate adornment for the proponent of a philosophy that makes the moral case for capitalism. She has served as a senior vice president of Dole Food Company, where she created a nutrition program, a George H. W. Bush speech writer, and worked with the late philanthropist Ted Forstmann. When Arianna Huffington descended on Washington in the mid-nineties to launch a salon for the sort of conservatives whose names appear in boldface, Jennifer was Huffington’s right-hand-woman. Grossman is definitely used to circulating among the rich and powerful.
Grossman joined the Cato Institute in 1993, as director of education. She was energized by her first encounter with the writings of Ayn Rand.
It is safe that the Jennifer Grossman is the only Champion Women profilee ever to have been pursued by the notorious Jeffrey Epstein. They flew to Palm Beach together in a private plane after meeting at a posh philanthropic gathering in Aspen. Already an independent woman, after the Randian model, Jennifer wasn’t really an Epstein possibility, however. “I was not a victim—and I suspect Jeffrey knew it,” Grossman recalled in a blog. “By 1994 he was well on his way to learning who would be the most efficient, least troublesome means to serve his sexual ends. The younger, the least connected, the least protected, the least sophisticated, the better.” At 27, the age of the Epstein adventure, it goes without saying, Jennifer was already well-connected and sophisticated.
Jennifer Anju Grossman—known as JAG—assumed the reins of the Atlas Society in 2016. She has not changed the philosophy of the Atlas Society but she has added features designed to attract a younger audience. One is “My Name Is …”, a series which captures ideas, or lives of relevant people, which are drawn through a cartoon. Among those showcased: Karl Marx, Howard Roark, the genius architect in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, Dagny Taggart from Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Property and Free Speech. “One of our best performing videos was ‘My Name is Victimhood’,” Grossman says. “It is not about true victims, people whose houses burned down, or who have been robbed, raped or attacked. Real victims tend to try to move on, to find ways to get out of a bad situation. The video is about people who are finding power in their victimhood, who are part of the victimhood Olympics.”
“And, as women, it’s important for us to not see our femininity as some kind of social construct that’s been foisted upon us, but rather to claim it as our own, and as a source of strength and unique identity,” says Atlas Society CEO Jennifer Grossman.
One of the “My Name Is . . .” subjects is Jennifer Grossman. She begins with the intriguing tidbit that she was born in India—hence the Hindi middle name, Anju—to American parents. Grossman’s father’s family was Jewish and her mother’s family was Catholic, and when her mother’s family objected to a marriage outside the church, what else to do but leave it all behind by joining the Peace Corps and going to India? Jennifer rode an elephant and spoke Hindi. When her mother developed a health problem, Jennifer was sent back to the U.S. to live with her artist grandmother, an interior decorator with an international reputation, whom Jennifer adored. A few years later, her parents returned and the family moved to Newton, Massachusetts, where Jennifer’s father was a doctor, before ultimately working at the University of California, San Francisco. Her mother was a social worker and a bit of a feminist, who tried to force no-nonsense haircuts and garb on Jennifer, who was having none of it. Jennifer remembers being bullied in school—which, naturally, Jennifer views in Randian terms.
“When I was in school, I was attracting a lot of negative attention not because I had a limp, or because I was overweight, or because I was transgender or something. These are all of the things that traditionally cause people to say, ‘Oh, that’s why people are bullied,’ but I was actually bullied for being different, for being an attractive young third-grader with really good grades and high self-esteem. I was put on trial by members of the self-appointed ‘I Hate Jennifer Club’ for the crime of being conceited. At the time I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I can’t imagine that as a 12-year-old that I was any more arrogant than my other classmates, but I did think very highly of myself. And I continued to do so based on what I’m able to accomplish. I’m not going to sacrifice that to placate my enemies. And that is the central theme of Atlas Shrugged, which is that you can’t placate those who envy you because they don’t want what you have, they want you not to have it.”
“Objectivism also challenges the doctrines of irrationalism, self-sacrifice, brute force, and collectivism that have brought centuries of chaos and misery into the lives of millions of individuals,” the Atlas Society website sums up.
Grossman’s alma mater, Newton High School in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts, every year sent an outsized contingent to Harvard and the family actually considered packing Jennifer off to live with her Louisiana grandparents so she’d have a better shot because of geographical distribution. Instead, she did a freshman year at Columbia University in New York and transferred to Harvard. Grossman graduated from Harvard with honors and spent some time traveling with a Greek boyfriend before landing a job at WJLA, the ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., where she learned to write the sort of succinct copy that would suit her for speechwriting. She was originally hired to do research for speeches at President George H. W. Bush’s White House, but she figured she could move up fast.
And she did. “I knew that I might not have control over how smart I was, but I always would have control over how hard I worked,” Grossman says. “And so that’s what I did. I said that this was a great opportunity. I would get to work before anybody else, leave late and work, work, work. In the process, and thanks to having some really great bosses including Dave Demarest, and Dan McGroarty, and Bob Zoellick as a mentor, they gave me the opportunity to start writing speeches. One of the first ones I wrote was for a dedication for the Khalil Gibran Memorial Garden. That was kind of fun because it was one of those low-level speeches that frankly would just get passed through and Bush would read them as is. But I also had a knack for writing applause lines and one-liners, you know? So, if I wasn’t writing a speech, other speechwriters would call me in, or in the final drafting process, the director of speechwriting would call me in to try to beef it up with applause lines. And, so, between writing various speeches and then working on punching up later drafts, I eventually petitioned my superiors for an actual commission saying, ‘I have been doing this work and I’d like to be recognized as such,’ and they gave it to me.”
After serving in the George H. W. Bush White House, Grossman joined the Cato Institute in 1993, as director of education. She was energized by her first encounter with the writings of Ayn Rand. The fiercely independent female characters in particular spoke to the adult version of the confident adolescent, who had refused to give an inch to members of the “I Hate Jennifer Club.” “I was inspired by Rand’s literary choice to create such strong female characters,” Grossman says. “Dagny Taggart of Atlas Shrugged is running a railroad, while Dominique in The Fountainhead is a journalist, and Kira in We the Living is pursuing her dream of becoming an engineer. And then of course, Ayn Rand’s major themes of combating envy and entitlement, and resentment, and of celebrating men and women of achievement was the missing piece that other writers were neglecting. I felt that this was one reason we kept on repeating the failures of socialism. Unless you are inoculated against socialism by having a moral defense of capitalism, which Ayn Rand provides, we will always see outbreaks of socialism, as is happening right now.”
With her resume and fluency in Randian ideas, Grossman was a natural for the job of CEO of the Atlas Society, which founder David Kelley offered her in 2016. “The principles of Objectivism, the philosophy rooted in reality, reason, and individualism, has never been more needed — nor more neglected,” Grossman said at the time. “This is the perfect moment to help the public rediscover the moral vision of Ayn Rand.” She remains convinced that Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is the antidote for much of what ails contemporary society. She explains, “The central tenet of Objectivism is that reality exists, that you are free to ignore reality, but you’re not free to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality. So, as a philosophy, Objectivism’s emphasis on reason is key. This is essential because it is not about your feelings: I feel like a girl this evening but I might feel like a boy tomorrow. Rand is also critical of the need to submerge your identity into a group: I am part of the black community, the transgender community. And, as women, it’s important for us to not see our femininity as some kind of social construct that’s been foisted upon us, but rather to claim it as our own, and as a source of strength and unique identity.”
A 1964 collection of Ayn Rand’s essays was given the title The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, which can be off-putting to people who believe in altruism and other traditional values. Grossman, however, believes that Objectivists can occupy the moral high ground currently captured by liberals and progressives, who operate under the banner of compassion. “I think progressives try to claim the moral high ground,” Grossman says. “They claim they’re the ones who care about the welfare of the poor and the marginalized, and that conservatives and those on the right are cruel and callous. Rand found that there were certain elements of progressivism that were driven by compassion for the less well-off but that this was in conflict with other values. Some are genuinely compassionate, while others are more interested in abolishing the rich and powerful. Objectivists should point out that this is envy-driven. It is important for us to reclaim the moral high ground and this includes pointing out that envy. What they want to do is claim things they have not earned, which is what greed is properly understood, and this is a very strong element among progressives.”
It is a safe bet that the Grossman, who’s used to hanging out with the rich and famous, is the only Champion Women profilee ever to have been pursued by the notorious Jeffrey Epstein.
Grossman is not optimistic about the immediate future. “I think we’re moving towards fascism,” she says bluntly, “because of government collaboration and collusion with business. What you see with social media and big tech is precisely that, that rather than government saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be banning any discussion of the efficacy of masks or the efficacy of vaccines,’ or any criticism of gender-affirming care, we’re seeing social media companies to do it for government. And so that is clearly fascistic in terms of government control of industry. We’re seeing that with the whole rise of ESG. You know, environmental sustainability, and government by corporations. That’s a backdoor for governmental priorities to be introduced into what should be purely economic decisions and in which shareholders, people who invest their money, should be placed first and not so-called stakeholders, which are, you know, arbitrary. And so, that’s not just bad business, it’s immoral. And I think that that’s what Ayn Rand would speak to today.”
Jennifer lives in Malibu, where she is associated with a Chabad community there. Chabad is part of a Jewish movement. But Randism eschews the spiritual, right? Jennifer wrote a story for the Wall Street Journal 2016, shortly after she was hired as CEO of the Atlas Society, headlined “Can You Love God and Ayn Rand?” It ended this way: “The world changes, but the genius and power of her words remain. As John Galt says in the closing lines of Atlas Shrugged: ‘The road is cleared.’ It is up to us, believers and nonbelievers, to take up her message and spread the news.”
It was a controversial article, as for many Randians the answer to the question was a vehement “No!”
Amid the fallout, Jennifer only shrugged, as befitted a confident, Randian heroine, who is the perfect voice for an idea whose time just might be coming soon to reach an even wider audience.