Ayn Rand, born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, authored two profoundly influential books around the middle of the 20th century, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Having received hand-me-down copies of both novels in college, I tried to read them. I found them boring, contradictory, and inconsequential. Something about metaphysics, economics, politics, sex; Dostoyevsky was a brisk walk in the park in comparison.
I took the word of others that they were masterpieces, as recommended by my liberal friends. It’s funny how politics can change perception in a decade.
So let’s now focus on Rand the person and her influence upon our potential vice president, which is much more interesting.
Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian liberal, perhaps the first major proponent of Neoliberalism, a supporter of the brief Kerensky Revolution of 1917, and fervently anti-bolshevik, anti-socialist, and anti-Communist. She obtained a visa from the Russian government to visit relatives in the U.S., a visit from which she never intended to return. Arriving in New York in 1926, she soon moved to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. Eventually she began writing for stage, screen, and print, starting on The Foutainhead in 1935.
In her ongoing battle against human nature, she chose to tout such human characteristics as identity and consciousness as axioms that exist only because they are acknowledged.
Rand founded a radical form of capitalistic theology she called “objectivism,” through which she criticized conservatism and libertarianism. Basically, she posits that human knowledge is independent of thought. Rather, knowledge is based on reality. Now we are getting somewhere. Or is it nowhere?
Rand’s philosophy is based on personal happiness, selfishness, and achievement. She championed the value of self-determination, referring to the poor as “parasites.”
The worry about Ryan by many Democratic voters and independents is that this selfishness and this undergraduate claptrap is the driving force behind the austerity of the Ryan budget.
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one, think of one person, it would be Ayn Rand ... 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."
Ryan said in a 2005 speech to the Atlas Society.
In an April interview with the National Review, Ryan called rumors of his devotion to the Rand ethos an “urban legend.” Despite this, Ryan once claimed that he gave copies of Atlas Shrugged out at Christmas, coaxing his interns into reading it.
In fairness, there are some differences between Rand and Ryan:
1) Rand was not a fan of Ronald Reagan, citing that his policies were “slanted in favor of business rather than labor.”
2) She was a devout atheist, something Ryan (a Catholic) has pounced upon to distance himself from Rand in recent months, aligning himself instead with Thomas Aquinas.
3) Rand was pro-choice.
4) Ryan turned down an invitation to speak at the Ayn Rand Institute this year.
It has become clear to Ryan and the Republicans that Rand, brilliant or not, is not marketable as a role model.
The new version of the Ryan budget, called “the Path to Prosperity,” softens some of the original planned cuts to Medicare and Social Security. For those currently over the age of 55, the plan leaves these programs untouched. The rest of us? Not so much.
In order to stop what Ryan calls “the most predictable crisis we’ve ever had,” he chooses to tackle the national debt by slashing corporate welfare and tax loopholes.
Then, the proposal takes that extra money, and instead of paying off the federal deficit, Ryan uses it to lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% (It’s 35 instead of 39 because the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthiest Americans are also part of the plan). This neuters any claims of slashing Obama’s spending projections.
President Obama has called the Ryan budget “Social Darwinism,” while Newt Gingrich famously called it “right-wing social engineering.”
The real reduction of Ryan’s plan in part comes on the back of Medicaid, effectively cutting it a third by not allowing it to keep up with ever-climbing health care costs. Ryan voted for George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D plan, which is responsible for much of this cost increase.
Ryan also voted for TARP, the auto bailout, and all of the stimulus plans. These are all poison pills for the Republican base and proof that his record does not match his rhetoric.
Ryan’s infallibility, as viewed by right-wing economic hard-liners (the neoliberals/ neoconservatives), who are the real Rand fans, can be attributed to:
1) His lack of a record. Only two of his bills have passed into legislation in his 14-year career in Congress.
2) He was instrumental in blowing up any bipartisan budget deals in 2010 and 2011, denying Obama any semblance of victory.
One of the deals blocked by Ryan was that of the Republican-inspired Simpson-Bowles Commission, of which Ryan was a member. Mitt Romney now whole-heartedly supports the plan.
What does all of this mean? Ryan does not really hold Ayn Rand so dear, he is not really interested in reducing deficits, and he wants to slash entitlements to cut taxes for the rich. We could trust his word that these things are not true if only he had a record of accomplishment to back it up.
Ryan’s meteoric rise and that of the Tea Party Congress that idolizes him has one thing behind it: power. The only way to achieve this now is to destroy the president at all costs, and even Ryan’s own professed ideals.
Unlike Rand’s work, I’ve thoroughly read Ryan’s stuff for years. It’s boring, contradictory, and inconsequential. Like Rand, Ryan doesn’t hold libertarianism or conservative ideals close to his heart. Rand and Ryan both appear to be attention-seeking narcissists, well-spoken but morally bankrupt, and greedy for power and fame.