Paul Ryan's Unlikely Heroine
When Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern named Sen. Tom Eagleton his vice-presidential choice, it was discovered that Eagleton had received electroconvulsive therapy for depression.
Eagleton was rudely dismissed, replaced by Sargent Shriver. After all, we couldn't have a crazy man on the ticket! Right? McGovern, a B-24 pilot who flew 35 bomber missions, panicked when handling the delicate issue of mental illness, then a taboo subject.
Forty years later, Republicans running for House and Senate are asking if the extreme views of Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's vice-presidential pick, are too crazy to support. Will Romney seek an alternative veep selection whose views are less toxic at the Tampa convention?
From a religious standpoint, the 2012 election is a historic oddity. For the first time there will be no WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) on the top ticket of either party. Biden and Ryan are Catholics, Romney's a Mormon, and Obama a Protestant who's only half Anglo-Saxon.
If elected, Romney could be the first president to take the oath of office on the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon. One expects GOP convention attendees will acquaint themselves with the latter book, while others will devour Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," whose message of individualism and free market capitalism Paul Ryan claims inspired him to enter politics.
Ryan, reputedly a devout Catholic, reads Ayn Rand's writings, but apparently not relevant Papal Encyclicals on the poor and social justice. In April, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote Congress opposing the regressive Ryan budget plan, which reduces resources for critical safety-net programs.
The bishops urged food aid for poor families, protection of vulnerable children, and "the poor put first" in budget priorities. Ryan and a GOP Congress gave their appeal short shrift.
Ryan (who would privatize Social Security and eliminate Medicare in favor of vouchers) acknowledges that Rand's laissez-faire writings determined his understandings of social policy and economic theory. He figuratively worships at the altar of the late emigrant Russian author and screenwriter, born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, who made her living in that den of iniquity, liberal Hollywood.
William F. Buckley Jr., the bright intellectual light that Ronald Reagan and millions of conservatives followed, had utter contempt for Rand's writings and strident godless philosophy. Rand bitterly condemned Ronald Reagan for "hawkish foreign policies" and said that "by denying the right to abortion, Reagan cannot be a defender of any rights."
Buckley said of "Atlas Shrugged," "It is transcendentally awful, an essay on selfishness." National Review Editor M. Stanton Evans concluded, "Rand tries to justify capitalism without its necessary Christian culture which gave birth to our freedoms." Gore Vidal, Buckley's intellectual equal, agreed, saying, "Her viewpoint is nearly perfect in its immorality."
This is the book Paul Ryan gives as a gift and requires staff members to read.
Famous anti-communist Time editor Whitaker Chambers (of Alger Hiss fame) called her book "sophomoric" and "remarkably silly." Flannery O'Connor wrote, "The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get."
Veep candidate Ryan's "Rand fixation" is curious because Rand stood for everything Ryan supposedly opposes. An atheist, she discounted creationism, opposed school prayer, was pro-choice, and expressed hostility to the way political conservatives joined forces with organized religion. Always fiercely opposed to social programs, she ironically accepted Social Security and Medicare benefits six years before her death.
When Rand testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee after the war, she was considered naive and unfathomable when she claimed that America had erred in providing critical Lend Lease assistance to Russia when it was desperately battling to defeat Nazi Germany.
A member of a bourgeois St. Petersburg family, Rand grew up as Russia turned communist. An understandable lifelong hatred of communism and socialism clearly clouded her economic thinking. She feared America would become communist. Instead, Russia became capitalist (thanks in part to Ronald Reagan, whom she abhorred).
Paul Ryan regularly touts Rand's belief in "rational self-interest as life's guiding moral principle" on Glenn Beck's programs and myriad Fox TV venues. I doubt many Catholic priests and bishops share Ryan's enthusiasm for Rand's philosophy of selfishness. The nuns surely don't. The voters may not buy it either.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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