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Ryan reverses course on Rand

<p>For years, Rep.</p>
Ryan reverses course on Rand
Ryan reverses course on Rand

For years, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the right-wing chairman of the House Budget Committee, has been widely described as an Ayn Rand acolyte, best known for assigning "Atlas Shrugged" to members of his staff. Now, however, the Republican lawmaker finds humor in his reputation.

"You know you've arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine," Ryan chuckled in an interview with National Review. He added, "I reject her philosophy. It's an atheist philosophy." Ryan said he prefers Thomas Aquinas, concluding, "Don't give me Ayn Rand."

I'll gladly assume the man is familiar with his own philosophy, but it's curious to see him distance himself from Rand in this way, especially in light of his apparent preoccupation with her vision. As Alex Pareene noted, Ryan is, after all, the same guy who made these comments:

"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." [...]"I give out 'Atlas Shrugged' as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well ... I try to make my interns read it."

National Review knocked Ryan's detractors for making "Rand-related slams," but is it a "slam" to take Ryan's own words about the author at face value? For that matter, is it really unreasonable to note that Ryan's radical budget plan, which redistributes wealth from the bottom up, seems to have been inspired, at least in part, by a Rand-like philosophy?

Incidentally, Ryan also spoke at some length at Georgetown yesterday about his governing philosophy, which featured a defense of sorts against the criticisms he'd received from leaders of his own Roman Catholic church. As Ed Kilgore reported, the Wisconsinite "mainly relied on the argument that the 'fiscal crisis' facing the country trumped any concern over his budget's impact on the poor and vulnerable."

It seems like the kind of attitude Ayn Rand would approve of.

Regardless, in case anyone's forgotten, there is no debt crisis. The United States can easily borrow as much as it needs at low interest rates, suggesting there's nothing even close to a debt crisis. This is a fig leaf Ryan and the right is using to rationalize draconian cuts to domestic priorities, which they've long wanted to make anyway.

Second, if Ryan and his allies were seriously panicked about reducing the deficit and getting our fiscal house in order, they'd consider modest tax increases on the wealthy. Indeed, we know exactly what's driving the national debt, and much of it has to do with tax cuts the rich didn't need and the country couldn't afford. When Ryan acknowledges this, he'll start to have some credibility on the issue.

And third, for all of Ryan's alleged fear about the debt, his last budget plan ignored deficit reduction altogether, and instead prioritized more tax breaks for those at the very top. Asked yesterday about tax loopholes he'd be willing to close to help pay for his plans, Ryan refused to go into any detail.

Update: Our pal James Carter passes along this remarkable clip of Rand gushing about Rand in 2009 -- not exactly ancient history -- and how relevant he considers her work in his attacks on Democrats and the modern welfare state.