Let me say up front that I’m not a fan of Ayn Rand, although I did read and quite liked the Fountainhead when I was in my 20’s. For the record, I was an English major, so I read a lot and I can assure that Ayn Rand is not required reading for English majors on most campuses. When I was in college, I knew a lot of non-English majors who proudly avoided classes in which reading would be required, well, reading a novel anyway. An engineer friend of mine said he’d never read a book in his life. Others sparked noted their way through required college reading. Not me – after books, albums were my number one priority which left no money for Cliff Notes.
I can tell you this, Paul Ryan did not read Ayn Rand’s “masterpiece” Atlas Shrugged. At 1,088 pages, Paul Ryan would have started it as a young man and still be reading it, unless he had taken Evelyn Woods speed reading course. And speed reading a novel, that’s just wrong. I don’t begrudge Ryan or any politician for not having time or interest in reading. President Kennedy confessed to never reading a novel, although he was a prolific reader of books on history.
If I were a reporter, I’d ask Ryan to name all the Ayn Rand books he has read and to give his takeaway from each. And I would quiz him too. For example, name the main character and his profession in the Fountainhead. But I believe he would give a Sarah Palin like response and say that he had read “all of them” and that he would rather talk about the deficit or medicare vouchers.
Here’s the thing: conservatives have championed Ayn Rand as their intellectual and ideological leader without having read her work and without knowing or understanding much about her philosophy on life. If they knew some of her views, they would quickly distance themselves from her, as Paul Ryan now has. It is a matter of public record that she was an atheist, ambivalent toward gun rights, had issues with the death penalty, and was pro-choice. And she hated the National Review, the conservative periodical and was no fan of William F. Buckley. In fact, she hated political parties!
The GOP likes Ayn Rand because she was a rugged individualist who believed in reason, meritocracy, unfettered capitalism and limited government. This is of course no surprise coming from a Russian who lived her formative years in Stalinist Russia. She was suspicious of faith, arguing that it limited thought and was antithetical to reason. Her social positions don’t square with the social conservative base of the GOP. Ryan, who said he grew up reading Ayn Rand and credited her as one of his main influences who inspired him to enter politics, has finally rejected her philosophy. My takeaway from this is 1) Ryan is not a very good reader and 2) he felt the need to show that he too can flip-flop with the best of them.