Reflecting on Ryan and Rand

I read Ayn Rand (We The Living, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) in high school and was a devotee until my late 20s. I sometimes think of that period as being the early adult equivalent of the terrible twos: just say “no” to the values and political philosophy of your parents.

For the past decade or so I’ve wondered aloud how America’s “Christian” and “family values” politicos would react if Jesus were to be reincarnated (as, perhaps, Hashim) and plopped down in the middle of the U.S. My guess, based on the writings of the New Testament, is that he would be welcomed with open arms by the Occupy Movement and scorned by the bulk of America’s financial and political elite (of both sides).

It is with this background that I stumbled upon the verbal contortions of one Rep. Paul Ryan, 42, (R-WI-1), rumored to be a possible running mate for the yet-to-be-anointed but certain-to-happen Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney.

The contortions are in response to criticisms of Ryan’s 2012 budget:

[B]y 2050 Ryan would set the entire federal budget other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP (and interest on the debt) to 3.75 percent of GDP. That figure would include defense spending, which Republicans generally want to keep at around 4 percent of GDP.

For context, in fiscal 2011, federal spending was 24 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

  • Officially, a fifth of that is defense (critics argue that there are defense-related expenses in line items other than the DoD). The primary beneficiaries? Companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Accenture and Ernst & Young, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, Exxon and Shell, HP and Texas Instruments.
  • A fifth is Social Security (a program where most citizens have made annual payments for most of their lives, expecting their government to invest that money not spend it on foreign exploits, for example).
  • Another fifth is Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP. At least part of this has been paid in advance by America’s workforce.

Axing all three of those program services would still not reduce the budget to 4 percent of GDP.

Ryan exempts two-fifths of the budget from his ax. That means he’s focused on three-fifths of the budget … which accounted for about 15 percent of GDP in 2011. From 15 percent to 4 percent. You can zero out the defense budget and not get there. And that ain’t gonna happen.

Hardly what one would call a charitable budget.

But that’s just what Ryan did in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network where he said the budget “was crafted ‘using my Catholic faith’ as inspiration.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not amused.

A week after Ryan’s boast, the bishops sent letters to Congress saying the Ryan budget, passed by the House, “fails to meet” the moral criteria of the Church, namely its view that any budget should help “the least of these” as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless. “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” the bishops wrote.

[...]

“Your budget,” a group of Jesuit scholars and other Georgetown University faculty members wrote to Ryan last week, “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”

That’s not the only time Ryan has claimed his budget arose from his religious philosophy:

Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s chief budget writer and that party’s foremost economic philosopher, put this faith on display last week when he took his reverse Robin Hood budget to the Jesuits at Georgetown.

Ryan floated the novel idea that his plan to slash funding for the social safety net, while dramatically cutting taxes on business and the wealthy, is based on sound Catholic doctrine, since reducing government dependency is a Christ-like dictum. You will recall the story of how Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes and kept them in his baskets, that the assembled crowd might learn to respect success and feed themselves without depending on others. He then delivered the feast to the Pharisees, who after all, were the job creators. I believe it was in the Book of Romney.

But wait. There’s more.

Ryan objected to having his politics characterized as influenced by Ayn Rand, so much so that he told the National Review Online that he has never endorsed Rand’s political philosophy and that any such claims are an “urban legend:”

“You know you’ve arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine,” chuckles Representative Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, as we discuss his purported obsession with author and philosopher Ayn Rand.

Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, recently called Ryan “an Ayn Rand devotee” who wants to “slash benefits for the poor.” New York magazine once alleged that Ryan “requires staffers to read Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s gospel of capitalism. President Obama has blasted the Ryan budget as Republican “social Darwinism.”

These Rand-related slams, Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist.

[...]

“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.

Note that last year’s budget was also characterized as Randian.

In rebuttal, let’s turn to …

(1) Paul Ryan, the speechifier at an Atlas Society event in 2005:

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”

[...]

At the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand’s writings when he told his audience that, “Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill ?.?.?.? is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict – individualism versus collectivism.”

In that struggle, Ryan argued that shifting Social Security (which he called a “collectivist system”) toward personal investment accounts was not only good policy, but would change the political landscape, according to a recording of the event made by its host, The Atlas Society.

You can listen to the audio from that event:

(2:01) I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.

(3:21) It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d’Anconia’s speech (at Bill Taggart’s wedding) on money when I think about monetary policy. And then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I can check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism…

(2) Paul Ryan, on the stump for reelection in 2009, video courtesy of YouTube:

Why does fact-checking matter?

Because you don’t get to wrap yourself in church and flag while on the stump and tell your audiences what they want to hear (“dog whistle” politics, anyone?) when it’s a 180 to your actions.

It’s one thing to change your mind about a policy. I see this as a form of maturity.

It’s another to deny words you have repeatedly spoken, especially because these words reflect the core, the heart, of your political philosophy.

Ryan’s verbal two-step certainly makes him a kindred spirit with Romney. The Democrats should be salivating at the thought of a Romney/Ryan ticket.

Finally, the National Review used to traffic in journalism. No more. In serving as a stenographer for Ryan, NRO demonstrated that it is a partisan mouthpiece, staffed by lackeys not journalists.

         

23 Comments

  1. There are a couple of facts here:
    1) Jesus was not a sociopath
    2) Ayn Rand was a sociopath from an early age.
    Paul Ryan is the poster boy for today’s Republican party – not Christians but Ayn Rand sociopaths.

  2. BTW Kathy I was never able to get through any of Rand’s books. I have always been a been Sci Fi fan and about 1967 I went into my local book store and they had Atlas Shrugged in the Sci Fi section and I bought it. As I recall I didn’t get past page 20.

  3. When I was teaching English at university during the early 60s, there were a number of Rand fans in the student body. After trying to deflect proselytizing office visits by saying I knew nothing about her, etc., I developed the habit of saying, “Who?” and when the student said her name, pronouncing it as “Ann,” I would say, “I thought her name was Hind End.” That set the tone for my “discussion” with the–always male–fan.

  4. Gotta walk that Ayn Rand stuff back eh Paul? Too clever by half. I too was deeply enthralled by Rand in high school, but as you say Kathy, it is the “early adult equivalent of the terrible twos”. Of course Ryan is the typical political chameleon and says what he thinks will give him advantage first and the truth somewhere down the line – if at all. And of course I agree with your take on reactions to a Jesus return. Many of those who wrap themselves in Christianity would likely be appalled and “inconvenienced” if they were confronted with the real deal. Ah the human comedy rolls on…

  5. Ron – that’s a hoot. SciFi?!? It was probably 71 or 72 when I read the first book. I read all three in short order. I re-read Atlas Shrugged (the second time was a paperback that I marked up) every 3-4 years for a decade or so.

    I’m pretty sure that one of the appeals was a very strong-willed, intelligent female protagonist.

    alphonsegaston – Oh. My!

    Zephyr – “human comedy” … if it weren’t so serious, it would be funny.

  6. alphonseegaston

    I have to congratulate you on your tag name. I suspect it places you in my age group – over 70. Bon!

  7. Greenspan was also a Randian, he introduced Rand to I believe Nixon, as is Christopher Cox, the anti-regulator appointed by W. Bush to be the chairman of the SEC. These two gentlemen are high on the list of those responsible for the unpleasantness known as the Great Recession, which destroyed 7 trillion dollars of the nation’s wealth and threw 25 million people out of work, in no small part because these gentlemen had the Randian inspired faith that the financial markets could self-regulate, in spite of nearly a thousand years of history to the contrary.

    Other self described Randians currently on the public stage include Rush Limbaugh and Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who requires his clerks to read The Fountainhead by Rand.

    Other fun facts. Rand based her lead character and hero of The Fountainhead, Howard Roake, on the 1920′s American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, infamous for killing and dismembering a 12 year old girl named Marion Parker. She wrote of Hickman “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” and that he had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.’”

    In Atlas Shrugged, the rich, over achievers in America go on strike to protest the evil of progressive taxation, refusing to innovate or job create. One of the strikers intentionally causes a train wreck. Rand makes it clear that she believes the victims killed in the train wreck deserved to die because they supported the taxes that made the strike and its subsequent violence necessary.

    Rand opposed democracy. She called the masses lice and parasites.

    She promoted the individual over society as a whole, saying that the only duty that society should do is to get out of the way of the superman, the innovator. She declared that government was evil. Above all else she railed against compassion, especially any form expressed collectively, by society as a whole.

    It would be easy to dismiss Rand and her ideas because they are childish and laughable and, well, just ridiculous, if we weren’t hearing them repeated on a daily basis by not just the Tea Partiers but by the conservative establishment of this country.

  8. @Merkin: none of the strikers caused the train wreck–it was caused by incompetence. Rand has many problems, not the least of which is inconsistency. In her books she claimed that reason was an absolute and that violence must never be used, yet she was dismissive of Native Americans (wiped out by violence) and reason tells us that we must help others if we expect to garner their help in return.

    What struck me (dumbfounded me, really) was her support for a pathological liar and for people and groups who preyed on others (as opposed to being rugged individualists). In addition, she proposed (in Atlas Shrugged) that her protagonists would rebuild the USA in the image they wanted. She seems to have forgotten that there would be a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people who would be in violent conflict after the shambles had been created. There would almost certainly be five to seven different nations that would have come out of the US.

    So much for her using reason…

  9. Americans love pseudo intellectuals such as this Ann Rand. Meanwhile they hate real intellectuals such as John Stuart Mills, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, or Sigmund Freud.
    But the really sad fact of America is that so many Europeans emigrated there for a better life but instead turned into horrible people such as this beloved Ann Rand.
    It is time the world turns its back on America, dump the British capitalist model and return to the values of the French and Russian Revolutions.
    But the problem for a progressive enlightened world is the Americans are armed and dangerous and looking for an opportunity to use their weapons.

  10. http://keithhennessey.com/2012.....-and-debt/

    Oh how one can distort numbers to make them look the way they want them to look. And those using those numbers can make them say anything they want them to say.

    This website does show Ryans budget at 3.X% of GDP. But one key bit of information left out of the above info is this is 3.X% surplus budget of GDP, NOT the budget equalling 3.X% total expenditures to GDP.

    And the problem with using numbers like this is so many people will blindly accept the numbers without questioning them before making a decision.

    Now, someone please, including Ms Gill, look at the above provided link and refute the informaiton in the article. What is incorrect (other than this goes out more than 2 years and you can not beleive anything over 2 years from a politician)

  11. First, all you really need to know about his capability to write honestly on this subject is that he is currently at the Hoover Institution and was an economic advisor to George W. Bush. I do not consider this an ad hominem because we have ample evidence of the competence and beliefs of those people. Secondly, you have to notice that nowhere in Hennessey’s piece does he address anything but the claims Ryan makes about the dollars involved. Nowhere does he address the totally unrealistic assumptions underlying the numbers in terms of how they can be achieved.

  12. We could do a LOT better than Ryan, his mentors, and their failed belief systems. HIGHER standards please!!! (and less psuedo-intellectual, delusional reactionary thinking).

  13. Count me among the Rand readers as well. I’ve got The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged on my bookshelf, as well as two collections of essays – one called “The Virtue of Selfishness.”

    By virtue of his praise and then subsequent rejection of Rand, I can only surmise that Paul Ryan is a liar, or ignorant, or perhaps both.

    Rand’s “philosophy” is rooted in selfishness and utterly rejects altruism of any kind, and while I have issues with the Catholic church on a number of things, they do a considerable amount of charity, and they do it well. Anyone who claimed Rand was part of their “value system” would have to reject not just government social programs, but his own church’s social programs as well.

    As for Ryan’s recent discovery that Rand was a thoroughgoing atheist, I can’t imagine that he read all 64 pages of the John Galt speech as he claimed, since a good many of those pages are dedicated to eviscerating the concept of Original Sin – one of the cornerstones of Ryan’s own faith.

  14. Jim S..Thanks, then I find this to be a case that both Cathy Gill and Hennessey are providing numbers that are not supported.

    Gill quotes number that say the total budget will be 3.75% of GRP. Can anyone come close to that position?

    And as you say Hennessey has numbers that are not supported.

    But my point in this is people believe this crap and make decisions on who to vote for when they do not have any facts that are true. So they vote for someone based on lies and then wih for something different once that person take office.

  15. RP,

    I also tried to track down the 3.75% number. The article linked to in the OP linked to something from CBPP that could not be found.

    But I found this: http://www.pgpf.org/Issues/Fis.....t.aspx?p=1

    This says that Ryan’s budget would limit “Defense, Non?Defense Discretionary, and Non?Social Security Mandatory” to 3.8% by 2050. I believe this also excludes Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP since those numbers are listed separately in the table and those numbers are greater than 3.8. That means Kathy’s argument that we could cut defense, social security, and Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP and not get to below 4% is not relevant, because those programs aren’t included in the 3.8%. That number reflects only non-defense discretionary spending.

  16. It appears that the original CBO report referred to is this: http://www.cbo.gov/sites/defau.....aths_2.pdf

    Which does say that the Ryan proposal would set “Other mandatory and defense and nondefense discretionary spending” at 3.75. So, the point about defense spending being historically above 3% is valid. But lumping in Medicare and Medicaid in that number is not. And it is notable that Ryan has proposed cuts in defense spending. It would be interesting to know exactly what level of spending Ryan has in mind for defense.

  17. Playing with details while ignoring the big picture may be fun and distracting, but it doesn’t take away from Ryan’s record and philosophy, which are pretty well documented. I guess he’s for and against AR. At least he didn’t say anything requiring him to make acts of contrition to Rush Limbaugh… yet. ;-)

  18. @wesleypreseley – “return to the values of the French and Russian Revolutions”?? Except for possibly the first 10 years (in which SOME free-spirited social experiments and democracy was tolerated), the Russian revolution turned out to be an unmitigated catastrophe for a good portion of humantity. (I don’t know about the French revolution.)

    I shudder whenever I hear that our solutions stem from an ideologically radical basis, whether its Marxian, Randroid, or otherwise. It’s just another way of saying that a lot more people are going to have to be killed.

  19. Obama is turning around handing food to kids in the back seat while he depends on unicorns and pixie dust to keep him aloft as he drives off a cliff. Ryan stays on the road while the kids in the back seat die of starvation. One budget being unreasonable does not make the other reasonable.

    Ideally we take some ideas from each and craft a compromise, not that this bunch of politicians could ever do that.

  20. DG, no more unicorns and pixie dust and winning Nobel Peace Prizes. This is warrior Obama (although he had enough brains not to wear a flax jacket during his non-coincidental (cough) Afg. speech). Old guts and glory quoting TR and AL, blasting a sentence of a paragraph of Romney’s prior campaign comments, faster than a political pundit, able to leap over tall tales with a single platitude, it is Superbama.

  21. Yes, Flax, it is in with the greenies, although hemp would be a better smoke.

  22. A general (ganged) reply:

    (1) I provide sources. See those blockquotes? That’s quoted material – and the link is either leading into the quote or included in the quote. ALWAYS. They are not, however, always primary sources — thanks to adelinesdad for finding the CBO report.

    (2) I should not have lumped Medicare et al and Social Security — I have made that correction above. However. It does not change the fact that Ryan’s budget is “not charitable.” Nor does it change his flip-flopping on how he feels about Ayn Rand.

  23. Thanks Kathy. I appreciate the correction, and I agree that it doesn’t significantly change your argument. I just think arguments are stronger when the details are right.

    I do think Ryan’s budget goes too far, but at the same time Democrats are unwilling to go far enough. So, I think Ryan’s proposal at least is a positive contribution to the debate, including showing us what will be the consequence if we rely only on cuts to balance the budget (the consequence being that mandatory spending and defense quickly crowds out any room for discretionary spending). In my view, we’ll need to make some of the cuts favored by Republicans, and some of the revenue increases favored by Democrats.

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