Ryan Shrugged

By Lehmann, Chris | In These Times, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Ryan Shrugged


Lehmann, Chris, In These Times


Paul Ryan has never "built" a thing in his life - except for constructing a career out of a long series of disingenuous arguments to cut federal entitlements. Yet in the curious logic of modern conservatism, the 2012 GOP vice-presidential nominee is a horny-handed son of toil. Around the time his father died, the young Ryan launched himself toward independence, he has rushed to remind voters, via the late-20th-century equivalent of an apprenticeship in rail-splitting: He worked at McDonald's.

As he was flipping burgers, Ryan steeped himself in the words of Ayn Rand, in the manner of many a Middle American teenage boy coveting an image of himself as an Übermenschin-waiting. Rands casually brutal celebration of possessive individualism was the North Star of Ryan's early career. In a 2005 speech before a crowd of true believers at the Adas Society, Ryan announced that "the reason I got into public service ... if I had to credit one thinker, it would be Ayn Rand."

Yet, as a militantly non-productive member of society, Paul Ryan has no place in the austere moral order that Rand envisions. Her Promethean heroes are hewers of rock, designers of skyscrapers and fabricators of steel - modernist gods, dispatched, it seems, to deal out fierce retribution to the puny, whinging statists. It's no wonder that today he's backpedaled his Randian past. His mentor's vicious social philosophy won't play on a national stage that demands candidates display a pseudopopulist common touch.

Still, an influence this deep and formative can't be wished away. The anxieties of a man haunted by the towering eminence John Gait have found expression as predatory policy-making. Everywhere in Ryan's piously admired budget forecasts are the telltale marks of the Randian faith. Capital gains and corporate tax rates are slashed on the grounds that the world-building beneficiaries of such giveaways must, as an ineluctable property of their nature, restore the battered U.S. economy to a hale state of virtue, in exactly the same way that pure and heroic skyscrapers must rise above the petty envies of the common herd.

Conversely, of course, the unheroic recipients of Medicare and Social Security must be punished, mainly for the cosmic affront of needing government assistance in the first place. …

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