Will Ryan Help or Hinder Romney's Presidential Bid? Right-Wing Hero Paul Ryan Has Agreed to Play Robin to Mitt Romney's Batman as They Strive to Oust Barack Obama from the White House. David Williamson Examines an Extraordinary Gamble That Could Change the Path of a Superpower

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T HERE were many elements of the Olympics opening ceremony that would have mystified an American audience - but the celebration of the NHS would have made many on the nation's political right groan.

"European" is the word Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan uses to describe President Obama's social policies, and he wants a radical roll-back of existing health programmes.

David Cameron edged into Downing Street in 2010 after telling voters the NHS was his top priority. Yet Mitt Romney, the Republican who would be president, believes that having Mr Ryan as his running mate will help him win the White House.

Last Saturday's announcement that Mr Ryan had been picked did not come as a shock - speculation had soared in the previous week - but it was a surprise.

At a time when the United States is wrestling with unemployment and a growing elderly population is dependent upon increasingly expensive drugs, why tie your fortunes to someone whose core ideas would horrify many Tories? One answer, as Mr Ryan might put it, is that Americans are not "European".

He is a fan of the writings of Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American novelist who championed radical individualism and the idea that a person's own happiness is "the moral purpose of his life".

Her influence is felt in the tax-cutting Tea Party movement which champions small government. Mr Ryan, 42, is one of a generation of conservatives who, via Ms Rand, discovered economists such Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and embraced their ideas with a proselytising zeal.

Paul Krugman, the left-leaning Nobel Prize-winning economist joked about such youthful conversions when he repeated a quote that amused him: "There's an age when boys read one of two books. Either they read Ayn Rand or they read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. One of these books leaves you with no grasp on reality and a deeply warped sense of fantasy in place of real life. The other one is about hobbits and orcs."

Mr Ryan, a Catholic who has sought to give fertilised eggs human rights, insists he owes a greater intellectual debt to St Thomas Aquinas than atheist Ms Rand, but since his election to Congress at the age of just 28 he has used his formidable number-crunching skills to apply his convictions to policy.

He electrified the right by not just attacking Mr Obama but putting forward alternative budgets. One featured spending cuts of US$5.3 trillion over a decade.

The Wisconsin congressman and father of three is a standard bearer for a movement that would happily scrap tax on capital gains and interest payment and abolish inheritance tax. It firmly believes that rigorous self-reliance and a commitment to personal liberty powered America's rise to international greatness.

They look at Europe's welfare states and shudder at talk of an "entitlement" culture.

When Mr Ryan joined Mr Romney for the first time as his running mate he won cheers when he declared: "Our rights come from nature and God, not from government."

Despite his popularity in the party, there are many reasons why his selection is a puzzle.

Mr Romney's signature achievement as governor of Massachusetts was securing a comprehensive healthcare system. The plan has so many similarities to "Obamacare" that Mr Ryan probably turns the colour of algae when he reads its details.

Neil Kinnock famously chased far-left ideologues out of the Labour party and, arguably, rescued it as a credible party of Government. …