Monday, August 20, 2012

Rand vs. Ryan

by Daniel Flynn

Mitt Romney named Ayn Rand as his runningmate last weekend—at least that’s the way numerous scribes see it.

In a piece called “Ayn Rand Joins the Ticket,” the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer argues that by naming Paul Ryan his runningmate, Romney adds “the ghostly presence of the controversial Russian Émigré philosopher and writer Ayn Rand.” “Ryan’s devotion to Rand is yet another Republican insult and injury to classic American ideas of fairness, squareness, and civic-mindedness,” writes Jamie Stiehm at “In fact, the Ryan-authored House Republican budget document, which cuts the heart out of our body politic, ripping social services and Medicare to shreds, is a pledge to the Rand coat of arms, standing against people who need a little help from other people.” The Christian Science Monitor’s Husna Haq calls Ryan “an ardent Randian.”

But “an ardent Randian” fakes a Russian accent, chain smokes Tareytons, and extols the Partridge Family’s “C’mon, Get Happy” while condemning Beethoven. Even Rand recognized the fanaticism she inspired. “Do not underestimate the admirers of The Fountainhead,” she told a Warner Bros. producer. “[They are] becoming a kind of cult.” Paul Ryan’s chiseled physique may recall the shirtless Howard Roark smashing rocks in a quarry. But for ways better and worse, Mitt Romney’s runningmate is no Randian.

Certainly Ryan told the Atlas Society in 2005 that “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.” He has also boasted of requiring his interns to read Rand’s magnum opus, 1957’s Atlas Shrugged, and of giving the dystopian book as a Christmas present (Rand, incidentally, was an enthusiast of neither Christ nor handouts). But the Wisconsin representative also supported both the banker and automotive bailouts, and consistently casts pro-life votes in Congress. The puppeteer disapproving of the marionette’s words and deeds suggests that she’s not the one pulling the strings.

Consider the differences between Ryan’s reaction, and Rand’s anticipation, of President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” scolding of businessmen. “If you have a small business—you did build that,” Ryan remarked at his coming-out party last weekend. “We Americans look at one another’s success with pride, not resentment, because we know, as more Americans work hard, take risks, and succeed, more people will prosper, our communities will benefit, and individual lives will be improved and uplifted.” Rand, by way of comparison, writes in The Fountainhead, that “Roger Enright had started life as a coal miner in Pennsylvania. On his way to the millions he now owned, no one had ever helped him.” The congressman’s positive remarks mesh with common sense. The novelist’s depiction of a social-atom businessman seems as divorced from reality as President Obama’s flipside fantasy of entrepreneurs as creations of the state.

What the Wisconsin congressman and the Russian refugee share in common is the contempt of the Left. Where they differ is in their reactions to that venom.

Rand saw the Left at work firsthand in St. Petersburg during the Russian Revolution, in Hollywood during the Red Decade, and in the Manhattan publishing world. She liked neither what she saw nor what she experienced. The Left confiscated her family’s business in Russia and blocked her books in America. She didn’t turn the other cheek.

She lampooned leftists as caricature characters in her books. As buffoonish as Atlas Shrugged’s John Galt is heroic, the liberals of Rand’s fiction are designed to infuriate more than convert the liberals to Rand’s reality. “When everybody agrees,” James Taggart shrieks in Atlas Shrugged, “when people are unanimous, how does one man dare to dissent? By what right?” Ellsworth Toohey professes in The Fountainhead, “A man braver than his brothers insults them by implication. Let us aspire to no virtue which cannot be shared.” “Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them,” Dr. Ferris tells Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged. “One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s in there in that for anyone?”

Whereas Ayn Rand puts down, Paul Ryan persuades. Bill Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles called Ryan “amazing” last year. “He is honest. He is straightforward. He is sincere. And the budget that he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, serious budget.” Whereas Rand scowls, Ryan smiles. The district Ryan represents hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential race since Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Yet, he has never in his seven congressional races won with less than 57 percent of the vote.

Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand’s substantive differences involve religion, ethics, economics, policy, and much else. But the greatest divide between the pair is stylistic rather than substantive. One who can’t distinguish the smiling and sunny politician from the dark and dour novelist lives in fiction as much as John Galt does.

Daniel Flynn


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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