Michael Gerson was far more impressed with Paul Ryan's economic speech this week than I was, but there was a line in the conservative's column that stood out for me. Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, dismisses Ryan's affinity for Ayn Rand as "an embarrassing past flirtation" (via Jon Chait).
It's worth clarifying that the flirtation may be embarrassing, but it's a fairly recent one.
Ryan recorded these remarks celebrating Rand and her philosophy in 2009. Gerson makes it sound as if Ryan were some misguided teenager who borrowed someone's copy of Atlas Shrugged and got a little carried away in high school -- but that's just not the case.
Ryan was elected to Congress when he said, "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 delivered a speech in 2005 to an Ayn Rand group -- after having been in Congress more than a half a decade -- where he said Rand's books "taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are." The novels "inspired" him, Ryan added, and became "required reading" for his staff and interns.
That last part is literal. Ryan told National Review, "I give out 'Atlas Shrugged' as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it."
"An embarrassing past flirtation"? I wish that were true. It's not.
Postscript: Incidentally, Rolling Stone asked President Obama about Ryan and Ayn Rand. He said, "Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up. Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else, in which we're considering the entire project of developing ourselves as more important than our relationships to other people and making sure that everybody else has opportunity – that that's a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what's best in America."