Paul Ryan Parts Ways with Ayn Rand

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.

Simple Plan to Balance the U.S. Budget

It’s hard to believe the U.S. government nearly shutdown over a dispute of a mere 360 million dollars, which is but a fraction of the nearly 3.7 trillion dollar U.S. budget.  What was the sticking point? An ideological issue over federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  Ultra conservative Republicans insisted that it would be preferable to shut down the government, than to continue funding women’s health initiatives.  I’m surprised it didn’t also come down to funding for National Public Radio, and maybe it did, who knows? In a compromise between the Speaker and the President at the last minute, the Republicans dropped their attack on Planned Parenthood for now anyway, in exchange for nearly 40 billion in the 60 billion in cuts it wanted, short of the 100 billion Tea Party members had pushed for in the House. The President apparently also agreed to put the Planned Parenthood issue to a vote later.  By all accounts, the Republicans do not have the votes in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood or NPR for that matter.

Who came out the winner in this heated budget process that almost shut the government down? Speaker Boehner? President Obama? Their negotiating teams?  The Tea Party?  Republicans? Democrats? The American people?  Actually, I think there are no winners.  That it took so long to come to an agreement, and that the deal had been conditioned on social issues, signals that some lawmakers care more about social issues, even as they claim their priorities are all about reducing the budget deficit.  If it is all really about the budget deficit, why not talk in serious terms about cutting defense spending, ending our involvement in 3 wars and raising revenues.  Why not debate the issue of corporations paying their fair share of taxes.  Why not discuss a tax increase on the wealthiest who can afford it and would feel it the least?

The Republicans are beginning to learn that it is difficult to govern with a majority, especially when the tent is so large. The Tea Party is undoubtedly furious that Speaker Boehner caved in on their demands.  The American people are disgusted by both parties and with the politicians they elected to office who have not made good on their campaign promises.  Conservatives and Progressives alike are none too happy.  It feels like the only moderate out there is the President, which is why he will ultimately be reelected.  Looks like his most serious challenges could come from two reality show stars.

Conservative James Baker, former Reagan Chief of Staff and Treasury Secretary who also served as Secretary of State for Bush Senior, said on Fareed Zakaria’s CNN show GPS, that the U.S. must cut spending and raise revenue.  He also hinted that we would have no choice but to raise the debt ceiling so that we don’t default on our financial obligations. And I completely agree.

Yes we have a spending problem, but we also have a significant revenue problem.  Here’s my budget plan:  cut defense, eliminate corporate loopholes, end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reduce military involvement beyond an advisory capacity in Libya; raise revenue by legalizing all undocumented workers to increase the tax base, which would help keep Social Security solvent, increase corporate taxes – (we have to stop corporate welfare handouts), simplify the tax code (maybe put the supercomputer Watson on the case) and never privatize anything ever because it’ll require a bailout in the end.  We need to learn from our mistakes, Paul Ryan.