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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

TDS Editor Ed Kilgore: Ryan’s Denial of Ayn Rand Won’t Stick

With the selection of Paul Ryan for V.P. The Democratic Strategist is reissuing several posts about his political philosophy. This post is from April 27th 2912
Ed Kilgore has an insightful and entertaining post up at Political Animal, taking Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to task for his less than credible dismissal of Ayn Rand as his philosophical guru. Riffing on a Ryan interview with National Review’s Robert Costa, Kilgore explains:

So we learn this week from an interview with National Review’s Robert Costa that Paul Ryan laughs off his identification as a big fan of Ayn Rand as an “urban legend,” based on little more than his youthful enjoyment of (and later, philosophical “bantering” about) her “dusty novels.” No, he sternly asserts, he rejects Rand’s “atheist philosophy;” give him St. Thomas Aquinas any old day!
Costa does not report that Ryan specifically denies the actual foundation for the “urban legend” associating him conspicuously with Rand: his remark in 2005, when he was hardly a callow teenager, that Rand inspired his entire career in public service, or his habit of giving copies of Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s militant magnum opus, to his congressional interns in 2003.
All of this wouldn’t matter much, except for the fact that Rand is the philosophical godmother of modern GOP obstructionism, the rigid refusal to compromise on legislation to benefit working people or inconvenience the wealthy in any way. Kilgore elaborates:
…The thing about Ayn Rand, as anyone who has actually read her works can attest, is that she offered readers an all-or-nothing proposition. She didn’t entertain, she instructed. This was most evident in Atlas Shrugged, whose centerpiece was an endless didactic “radio broadcast” by her hero John Galt, identifying all human misery with the “mysticism of the mind” (supernatural religion) and the “mysticism of the muscle” (socialism, or more accurately, the rejection of strict laissez-faire capitalism), and with the ethics of altruism both reflected.

As Kilgore quotes from Whitaker Chambers’ review of Atlas Shrugged, “I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal…”
As for Ryan’s reputation as a top GOP thinker, Kilgore concludes,

It’s possible, I suppose, that Paul Ryan is a secret “Objectivist” who keeps gold dollar sign pins in his underwear drawer. More likely, though, he doesn’t understand Ayn Rand any better than he seems to understand Catholic social teachings. In either event, his reputation as a deep thinker whose brilliance and good will demand respect from everyone across the political spectrum strikes me as entirely undeserved.

It’s not hard to understand why Ryan, like a deer caught in the headlights, would deny Rand’s formative influence on him, since she was not only a heartless reactionary, but also a militantly pro-choice atheist, who accepted Social Security and Medicare (According to “100 voices: an oral history of Ayn Rand”), while sneering at social programs for everyone else. But Ryan’s denials won’t be taken very seriously by anyone familiar with his record.

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