Paul Ryan's First Love

On September 6, 2011, Tom Nielsen, a retired 71-year-old plumber, interrupted Paul Ryan’s “pay per view town hall” at the Greenfield, WI, Rotary Club. Nielsen, enraged by Ryan’s crusade against entitlements, yelled out, “I’ve paid into that for 50 years, for my unemployment, and my social security, and my Medicare! And now you’re gonna-”. The old man was not allowed to finish. Three security guards pummeled the retiree to the ground and dragged him to a different room to hand cuff the insurgent plumber. To this dramatic display, Ryan coldly laughed, “I hope he’s taking his blood pressure medication.” But considering Ryan’s big, “bold” plans, I doubt the senior citizen will even be able to afford blood pressure medication.

Mitt Romney recently called his running mate a devoted Catholic, yet even the conservative US Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned his controversial budget plan. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, issued a statement calling people “to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs. He went further and called the cuts “unjustified and wrong.”

As the bishops made clear, the severe Ryan Budget contradicts the most basic premises of Catholic social teaching. The philosophy behind the draconian cuts instead comes directly from Paul Ryan’s high school sweetheart, Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged.

As writer John Roger puts it: “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”

When Paul Ryan was in high school he fell in love with Rand’s industrialist-romance novels. Like I and many other delusional teenagers, he was swept away by its grandiose notions of “individualism” and “the virtues of selfishness”. Unlike most kids, however, he never outgrew Rand’s “Objectivist Philosophy”, widely derided in philosophical circles. He even forced his interns to study her and handed out Atlas Shrugged copies as Christmas gifts for his staff.

As Ryan gained national prominence, he realized his radical teacher was at odds with the GOP’s nominally Christian base. A statement issued by 90 professors at the nation’s foremost Catholic institution, Georgetown, attacked the congressman for “continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families.” And concluded that, “In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In response, Ryan quickly organized a puff piece with his friends at The National Review to clarify his clear rejection of her “atheist” philosophy and to claim any past associations with her were “an urban legend.”

Such hypocrisy and cowardice is not surprising. After all just like Rand, who signed up for Medicare and Social Security as soon as she was eligible, Paul Ryan happily saved up the Social Security aid his family received after his father’s death to help pay for college. Now that the congressman has reached the height of success, he seems to have no qualms with kicking the ladder out from beneath him. Throughout his congressional career, he has advocated privatizing social security, eliminating Pell grants, and taxing the middle class to guarantee higher tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans. And in his budget plan, he has won praise from right wing pundits for destroying the foundations of Medicare and leaving seniors with measly vouchers to pay for ever increasing insurance premiums. At the same time, he advocates billion dollar oil subsidies, which directly benefit his family’s own stock options, and increased defense spending to help out his supporters in the ilitary industry, thereby exacerbating the “debt crisis”. Did I mention his Medicare voucher scheme will transfer dollars right into the hands of his insurance industry friends, who coincidentally give him more money than anyone else in the House? His “big solutions” are not an answer to our debt problem. They are simply a “Starve the Beast” excuse to destroy the safety net the public has fiercely supported since the New Deal.

Ayn Rand earned her reputation as a cold, unfriendly sociopath. But Paul Ryan seems like a likable guy. Over the years, he has cultivated a reputation as an earnest Midwesterner, looking to put forth serious policy prescriptions. While many revile his policies, they find it hard to condemn the sheer brutality of his ideas because of his friendly demeanor. Perhaps one incident, reported on by John Nichols of the Nation, best captures the man behind the shiny face and slicked back hair. At a Labor Day parade in his hometown, a worried constituent came up to him and said, "Look, I’m really concerned about the fact that our GM plant has closed, that our pen plant has closed. This town is de-industrializing. We’re losing jobs." Ryan bluntly replied, "Here, have some candy."

Well Mr. Ryan, thanks for at least saving us that.