Paul Ryan: Ideologist-in-Chief (Obama Wins!)

Governor Romney’s selection of Congressman Ryan as his running mate assured the re-election of President Obama. Will Milberg already explained this from the point of view of the politics of economics a year and a half ago, while I first suggested my reasons in my review of Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address and Ryan’s official Republican response.

Romney has now firmly identified himself with a true-believing ideologist. The Ryan – Romney budget proposals, empowered by Ryan’s ideology, will hurt the guy who wanted Obama to keep his dirty, government hands off his Medicare, and many more people who depend on social programs in their daily lives. Thus, Milberg was quite sure when the Ryan plan was announced that the Republicans were finished.

And even though the nation is very divided, ideological extremism, even when it is in the name of the core American value of liberty, turns people, left, right and center, off, as the Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater learned in 1964.

Ryan’s ideology is not completely coherent. It has three sources: libertarian thought, a fundamentalist approach to the constitution, and a narrow understanding of natural law theory and the theological foundations of modern democracy. He recognizes tensions between these positions, but it doesn’t seem to bother him or slow him down. He still moves from theoretical certainty to practical policy as a true believer, and he does it with a happy and appealing smile on his face, which would be quite familiar to Milan Kundera, as he depicted such smiles in his novels A Book on Laughter and Forgetting and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

The Congressman’s libertarianism comes via Ayn Rand, revealed in a speech he gave to the organization dedicated to keeping her flame, the Atlas Society. He explained:

I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.

But 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. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.

In almost every fight we are involved in here, on Capitol Hill, whether it’s an amendment vote that I’ll take later on this afternoon, or a big piece of policy we’re putting through our Ways and Means Committee, it is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict: individualism vs. collectivism.

Ryan approaches the constitution as a libertarian and an avowed enemy of progressivism. He explained in an interview with Glenn Beck, which led Beck to become Ryan’s very strong advocate.

What I have been trying to do, and if you read the entire Oklahoma speech or read my speech to Hillsdale College that they put in there on Primus Magazine, you can get them on my Facebook page, what I’ve been trying to do is indict the entire vision of progressivism because I see progressivism as the source, the intellectual source for the big government problems that are plaguing us today and so to me it’s really important to flush progressives out into the field of open debate.

GLENN: I love you.

PAUL RYAN: So people can actually see what this ideology means and where it’s going to lead us and how it attacks the American idea.

GLENN: Okay. Hang on just a second. I ‑‑ did you see my speech at CPAC?

PAUL RYAN: I’ve read it. I didn’t see it. I’ve read it, a transcript of it.

GLENN: And I think we’re saying the same thing. I call it ‑‑

PAUL RYAN: We are saying the same thing.

GLENN: It’s a cancer.

PAUL RYAN: Exactly. Look, I come from ‑‑ I’m calling you from Janesville, Wisconsin where I’m born and raised.

GLENN: Holy cow.

PAUL RYAN: Where we raise our family, 35 miles from Madison. I grew up hearing about this stuff. This stuff came from these German intellectuals to Madison‑University of Wisconsin and sort of out there from the beginning of the last century. So this is something we are familiar with where I come from. It never sat right with me. And as I grew up, I learned more about the founders and reading the Austrians and others that this is really a cancer because it basically takes the notion that our rights come from God and nature and turns it on its head and says, no, no, no, no, no, they come from government, and we here in government are here to give you your rights and therefore ration, redistribute and regulate your rights. It’s a complete affront of the whole idea of this country and that is to me what we as conservatives, or classical liberals if you want to get technical.

GLENN: Thank you.

PAUL RYAN: ‑‑ ought to be doing to flush this out. So what I was simply tying to do in that speech was simply saying those first versions, those first progressives, they tried to use populism and popular ideas as a means to getting ‑‑ detaching people from the Constitution and founding principles to pave the way for the centralized bureaucratic welfare state.

In the Hillsdale Speech and the Oklahoma speech Ryan does indeed explain himself more fully. His way of thinking about contemporary problems is deductive. He starts with simple propositions about the world, liberty and the rule of law, and then based on these propositions he understands complexity in a way that is quite similar to Beck’s approach. Progressivism bad. Individualism good. The constitution is understood as a univocal document that supports one party, the Republican Party, and its present agenda. The Democrats and their leader, on the other hand, are seen as undermining the founding document. They are a cancer, not opponents, but enemies.

This is where Ryan parts company with Rand. Instead of her atheism, he believes that the American system is a manifestation of God’s will. This he strikingly demonstrated in his speech on Saturday, accepting Romney’s nomination of him for Vice President. He declared: “Our rights come from nature and God, not government.” The sentence passed without much notice. Red meat for the religious right no doubt. But I wonder whose God and why God, and whose account of nature? Is it that of sound biology and environmental science? Or is it the creationist account? This is scary stuff. And I think as Americans went in response to Goldwater, they will go as well with Romney – Ryan.

Perhaps, therefore, the Romney – Ryan ticket will try to moderate their positions. Romney’s politics is notably flexible. Ryan is the ideologue. Romney isn’t. But they will then be running not only against Obama, but also against themselves. Romney was for “Romney – Obama Care,” until he was against it, and now Romney and Ryan may try being against (or perhaps more accurately not completely for) the Ryan Budget after they were for it. As Milberg put it: Obama Wins!

  • chris c

    Better update your critique of the Ryan camp, this just in from the CS Monitor and National Review:

    “Now here’s the funny thing. After years of praising Rand, assigning
    Rand readings to subordinates, and gifting friends and colleagues “Atlas
    Shrugged” for Christmas, Ryan has recently taken pains to distance himself from the conservative matriarch.

    The congressman from Wisconsin characterized his Rand-devotion as “urban legend” in a recent interview in the National Review.

    fact, his romance with Rand was nothing more than a youthful dalliance,
    Ryan told the National Review. “I, like millions of young people in
    America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” he said.
    “…[but] I reject her philosophy.”

    Looks like the was for it before he was against it trend has already begun…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Goldfarb/34603203 Jeffrey Goldfarb

    I actually read the National Review piece before I published mine. I know Ryan is not a “Randian.” Rather he describes himself building upon Rand in the development of his radical free market journey. I point out in the piece how he differs from Rand crucially when it comes to religion and politics. What is crucial to me is not what Ryan believes but how he applies simple propositions on the market, limited government, and religion and then has the answers to social problems. Knowing that who the enemy is, and going as far as Rush Limbaugh in describing progressives as a cancer.

  • Michael Corey

    The choice of Congressman Paul Ryan by Mitt Romney gives you
    an opportunity to do commentaries from both a deliberately considered
    perspective, and from a partisan perspective. I suspect that the deliberately
    considered perspective might be more interesting.

    My suggestion would be for you to engage specific issues
    using primary documents and what the principals actually said rather than what
    others have said about them. A
    good place to begin would be the proposals to save Medicare offered by
    Romney/Ryan and Obama/Biden. I suspect that the Romney/Ryan approach is still
    being fleshed out; however the “Guaranteed Choices to Strengthen Medicare and
    Health Security for All” offered by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representative
    Paul Ryan (R-WI) is in print and readily available as a primary document. The
    closest primary document supported by President Obama and Vice President I
    suspect is whatever language you can find in the Affordable Care Act. The
    former is easy to absorb, the later is must harder to analyze.

    The Medicare Trustees and Actuaries have a different
    perspective on the Affordable Care Act and its impact on Medicare than the
    Congressional Budget Office. The trustees and actuary remain extremely
    concerned about the sustainability of Medicare as presently constructed even
    after the Affordable Care Act.

    In my view, the differences between both approaches are
    stark and for the most part not understood by most people.

    An objective comparison of both might surprise most people. Some
    politicians on the stump have a tendency to play fast and loose with the facts.
    From my readings of both, one side seems to be more honest about the comparison
    than the other.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeffrey-Goldfarb/34603203 Jeffrey Goldfarb


    I didn’t write a piece on the medicare proposal of Ryan, but on his mode of approaching politics, which I find to be ideological. Along with Glenn Beck, he demonizes those who disagree with him. He sees a great battle between progressives and Americans. His view of rights is more theological than political. In his commentary on politics, i.e. his Hillsdale and Oklahoma speeches, he bases his politics on simple propositions, deductions from which he guides his policy positions. He is more interested in reducing the scope of government and combating collectivism than he is in fiscal responsibility as far as I can tell.

    And on the issue of medicare by the way, his proposals may lead to less costs but I am far from sure that the less fortunate will then be able to afford care. I don’t see how this saves medicare.

    The last point is partisan. The earlier points I make as as student of political culture. And by the way, I know I am often misunderstood when I say that something is ideological. I do so in the way Hannah Arendt used the term, not Mannheim or Geertz, i.e. magical modern thinking that knows the truth in politics past, present and future.