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.