Tuesday, August 21, 2012  

Of the voluminous reporting and opining about Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan one quote is quite striking.

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said in a 2005 speech to the Atlas Society, an organization of Rand followers. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”

It’s not a “gotcha” catch, where a politician slips on an impromptu question. This is a core statement, a clear-eyed description of a world view and its influences. Ryan didn’t just reel this one off at a Friday night fish fry in his native Wisconsin. The Rand seed took root.

Ayn Rand is a Russian-born atheist who died in 1982 after peddling a philosophy known as objectivism through works like “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.” She believed we all live in a state of nature, that we are but vessels of competing desires and needs, bouncing off each other like so many bumper cars. To do anything outside of one’s own self-interest is to upset the apple cart of life, Rand reasoned.

Take her word for it.

“Man — every man — is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others,” Rand said of objectivism. “He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”

So this is the grass that feeds the GOP’s Boy Wonder?

Ryan has said he rejects Rand’s atheism. That’s sort of like saying you’re a Christian who thinks Jesus was a fantastically inspired mortal, not the Son of God.

At some point in college or late in high school, American students encounter Rand. They flirt with her ideas. Being selfish is actually constructive? If, like Ryan, you are reading Rand while at the prestigious Miami of Ohio University, she really grabs hold, because you are by definition one of American society’s “winners.” Now you can be selfish about it, too? What a deal.

All that brother’s keeper business from church. Yeah, well.

Ryan isn’t just saying he read Ayn Rand like millions of other Americans. She’s the reason, Ryan says, he became involved in public service.

An atheist.

How do Bob Vander Plaats and the Christian right square this? Can Ryan truly be at once a Rand disciple and a man of Christ?

It takes little time to see the influence of Rand in Ryan’s politics.

What would Ayn Rand do?

Turn Medicare into a voucher system where 85-year-olds are buying health insurance in an open marketplace. Rip away the cords of the social safety net and free Americans to face each other, bare-knuckled, fists full of dollars for the few, dirt-scuffed hands for most.

Ryan isn’t the only conservative touting Rand. Congressman Steve King brought her up the other day in Carroll, telling a collection of middle-schoolers at an entrepreneurial summer camp at Des Moines Area Community College that he read “Atlas Shrugged” at night following long days of work with King Construction back in the 1970s.

When asked about Rand’s atheism after the event, if he knew about her lack of religiosity, King, a Kiron Republican, said, “I never had a chance to convert her.”

Rand clearly converted a young Paul Ryan.

For serious Christians this is serious business.