Now that the brouhaha over Romney’s choice for vice presidential nominee is out, and absorbed into the minds of American voters, we’ll see a large dose of electioneering and posturing in the coming months.
Undoubtedly, the left will spend a great deal of time -- with a great deal of enthusiasm -- on the intellectual foundations that Ayn Rand’s Objectivism has provided Paul Ryan. Despite the fact that he has repudiated the philosophy, there are still undertones of Objectivism in the way he presents his ideas. Here are four reasons why Paul Ryan should embrace some characteristics of Objectivism and use them to counter the left’s attacks:
1. Objectivism Provides a Moral Foundation to Many of the Issues Paul Ryan Represents: Far too often, admirers of Atlas Shrugged will point out the book is anti-big government. There is no denying the plot revolves around the burgeoning state in the book -- from the "Anti-Dog Eat Dog" rule to "Directive 10-289." However, the book (and Rand's entire philosophy) is better summed up in the chapter “This is John Galt Speaking.” It’s a powerful narrative of the foundations of Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism.
Doing right and doing wrong are choices that require abstract thinking, and moral men will make the rational choice to do right by themselves and the people they engage with. This is a moral lesson that America sorely needs right now. As more and more people look to the government for their livelihood, they are essentially making the moral declaration that it’s okay to take resources from one person regardless of their consent because someone else “needs” it more.
The result is a national debt of nearly $16 trillion, a record 22 million households on food stamps, a shaky public pension system in Social Security, declining fiscal soundness of Medicare and Medicaid. Frankly, Paul Ryan should embrace the morality of Objectivism and begin to use it in his own narrative about the fixes we need to the budget at the federal level. People need to stop asking what the government can do for them, and what they can instead do for themselves.
2. Rationality is Sorely Missing From Political Discussion These Days: Political discourse severely lacks credibility these days, and recent examples of this are more than enough to highlight how low we’ve gone. On the left, we have Harry Reid making very questionable claims about Mitt Romney’s accused tax evasion -- without a shred of proof. Joe Biden spoke of Romney’s policies putting people "back in chains" (although he later clarified his remarks). On the right, we have the consistently ridiculous claims coming from birthers who simply will not let go anything about Obama’s citizenship and his supposedly falsified documents.
Policies are what matter, and deep-seated policy discussions are needed on the campaign trail. Paul Ryan’s pick as the Republican vice presidential nominee will continue to make budgetary discussions the focal point, and more importantly, his willingness to discuss policy details as a “wonk” will continue to drive those discussions home. In short, he adds detail and context to the discussion of policy that is sorely needed right now.
Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism discusses context quite extensively. Our choices and values are not made or understood in a vacuum, but rather they take into account the depth and breadth of our experiences in this world. Therefore, a rational person will seek to broaden that understanding by seeking more facts. In a political arena where facts are stubborn but ignored, Paul Ryan will do well to continue discussing policy in-depth to forward his ticket’s policy agenda.
3. The Left Simply Lies About Ayn Rand, and Will Undoubtedly Lie About Paul Ryan, so he Should Embrace the Truth: Since Paul Ryan announced his budget plan for the Republican caucus in April 2011, the left has bitterly attacked Republicans generally and his budget quite specifically. However, much of the rhetoric they deliver simply isn’t true. “Pushing Granny Over the Cliff” is the most blatant example of the left using lies and deceit to represent Ryan's budget plan. Ryan himself recognizes that he’s handed the Democrats a political tool to use against Republicans --but in order to do so they will have to resort to outright lies and innuendo to succeed.
Rand herself was subject to much of the same vitriol over the course of her life. Some of the more prominent lies are that Rand gleefully accepted Medicare and Social Security benefits upon retirement age and that she modeled protagonist characters off vicious murderers. Neither is true. Rand’s copious notes she kept regarding plot lines, short stories, personal debates about how her novels would proceed, and all the dialogue a successful author will have during the course of writing, details much of the context behind Rand’s thoughts.
Despite consistent untruths about her, Rand’s novels continue to influence millions and are still in print decades after their publication. Her success speaks for itself, and Ryan can achieve similar success by focusing on issues and truth about his budget proposal as opposed to rhetoric and lies.
4. Ryan Can Perpetuate and Expand the Debate Regarding the Role of the State in our Lives: Paul Ryan is an intellectual. He understands the foundation that philosophy provides to the way government works, especially under the current administration. In fact, during the bipartisan budget discussion, Ryan specifically spoke to that point in identifying a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats and their budgetary talks -- Republicans simply don’t believe the state has a role to play in our lives the same way Democrats do.
Objectivists and Ayn Rand love the prospect of debate and the discussion of ideas. Rand’s appearance on Phil Donahue highlighted her personal thoughts on the matter when she consistently praised him, even though she disagreed with him vehemently, for his ability to discuss ideas with reason. The Ayn Rand Institute and Demos, two organizations opposed in their philosophical bases, engaged in debates numerous times about the role of the state, morality, and a number of other topics.
As The Economist recently highlighted, the debate about state influence in American lives is sorely deficient these days. Republicans rail against big government, but then under the Bush administration passed Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and the first bank bailouts. These are not models of “small government.” Democrats, on the other hand, perpetuated the practice with Obamacare, trillion plus dollar deficits, and a general anathema to decreasing the size of the state and devolving responsibility back to individuals. Paul Ryan, as an intellectual, can bring that debate about what the role of the state should be in a manner Americans can engage in.