Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, The Budget And Objectivity

It has been an interesting few days to be a Wary Lemming.

Following Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate, everyone alive has been racing to define the Wisconsin Congressman. As a result, it’s hard to know what to believe.

So let me help out by letting Paul Ryan define himself.

First, his famous budget. I’ll over-simplify it and hit a few of the key points. (if you want to read the details for yourself, go here)

Here’s what the more notable items of his budget would do:

  • eventually change Medicare to a system that primarily uses vouchers.  Seniors would then buy insurance on the open market.
  • repeal The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • cut roughly $100 billion per year for food stamps and cash assistance for needy families
  • cut the $300 billion budget for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled
  • increase taxes on middle class Americans, while reducing taxes for “job creators” (the top 2% of earners)
  • Slash “discretionary spending”, impacting everything from student aid to the FBI and the FDA

And here is what his budget proposals would not do:

  • touch military spending
  • touch Social Security
  • restore Glass-Steagall
  • create jobs in the near term

No dispute here.  Facts are facts and they are already out there.

The next big topic are his comments regarding novelist Ayn Rand.  (More on her here)

In a nutshell, Rand saw the world as a struggle between the individual and the collective. Rand preferred individualism, as best noted in her essays “The Virtue of Selfishness” and “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.”

She called her philosophy “Objectivism”, describing it as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

So, here’s what Ryan said in 2005:

“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.”

And

“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. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”

As late as 2009 Ryan said this:

“what’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now. I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”

So is this the real Paul Ryan?

Not so fast! Fast forward to April 2012 and Ryan says this:

“I reject her philosophy” (because) “It’s an atheist philosophy.”

Ugh!  And we were so close…

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you whether or not Paul Ryan has really changed his mind on Rand, because Paul Ryan himself offers no moment of epiphany to us.

Obviously, that epiphany would have had to have happened after his 2009 comments and prior to those in April of 2012.

Let’s see, what else was going on in April of 2012?

Mitt Romney was winning the Wisconsin Primary, among numerous other contests. Rick Santorum dropped out of the race, leaving the Republican nomination to Romney.

Given those facts, it does appear to be bit politically expedient, I have to admit.

But even so, I am still willing to allow for personal growth over a lifetime.

What is interesting in that last quote of Ryan’s though, is why he no longer makes the kids at the office read Rand.

Atheism.

Ok. Now we may be on to something.

Perhaps Ryan’s Catholic faith has led him to believe that collectivism is a better choice than individualism?

This would make sense to me, because it has always been somewhat illogical to watch devout Christians vote for such non-Christian policies and principals. Even a large portion of Ryan’s own Catholic leadership denounced his budget plans.

So, if Ryan has had a change of heart, evolved, as they say, can we see this in his views now?

Well, consider that budget.  Is it a budget aimed at the collective?  Or, is it aimed at the individual?

What has he said after denouncing Rand?  How about these two very recent examples:

  • “We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes”
  • “The moral case for individual initiative in a free economy holds that people have a God-given right to use their creativity to produce things that improve our lives.”

I am not cherry picking any of these points to draw any particular conclusion.

Fact are facts:

  • when you look at Ryan’s budget, you see the principles he absorbed from Rand all over it.
  • when you listen to Ryan speak today, you still here principles that are best described as individualism, or more precisely, “objectivism

And to be honest, I think that’s our answer.

Apologies for it taking so long, but with so much disingenuous puffery flying from both sides, even the wariest of lemmings gets a bit confused…

Do I care if Paul Ryan read Ayn Rand? No, not at all.

Do I care if Paul Ryan’s views on governement and society were very strongly influenced by Rand.  No, not at all.

Do I want to see Paul Ryan beat up for his beliefs? No, not at all.

Would I welcome a debate on these issues as they pertain to society? You betcha!

And so should you.

While I do not enjoy purely political essayists pumping more fear our way with regard to a candidate’s formative affiliations, I do think it is fair to wonder how a person processes this information, how it may help form their beliefs, how they then choose to live their life as a result of having been exposed to it.

In fact it is extremely important for voters to wonder how this will impact political policies and thus their lives.

But in Ryan’s case, we don’t have to wonder.  Everything we need to know is out there, already reported, for us to see and to evaluate.

Objectively

 

UPDATED:

Oops. I missed including this in my original draft:

“Paul can still quote every verse out of Ayn Rand,” his brother Tobin said in a 2009 interview.”

You don’t memorize a body of work and then disavow it without a pretty good reason. (if you disavow it at all)  And even if you do, the influence on you has already been well established.