“An Extreme Choice”: Touting Ayn Rand, GOP Pick Paul Ryan Backs Dismantling New Deal.
As Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney names Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice presidential running mate, we speak with two Wisconsinites about the seven-term congressman's record, and how his views are influenced by the controversial philosopher, Ayn Rand. "This is not necessarily a foolish choice by Romney," says John Nichols, political writer for The Nation magazine. "It is an extreme choice and it does define the national Republican Party toward a place where the Wisconsin Republican Party is — which is very anti-labor, willing to make deep cuts in education, public services, and frankly, very combative on issues like voter ID and a host of other things that really go to the core question of how successful and how functional our democracy will be." Ryan is chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee and architect of a controversial budget plan to cut federal spending by more than $5 trillion over the next 10 years. "Ryan gets a lot of mileage for understanding so-called the budget and economics," says Matthew Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine. "But if you look closely, he doesn't really get it." Democrats argue Ryan's planned Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reform would essentially dismantle key components of the social safety net.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the latest news in the U.S. presidential race. On Saturday, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would be his vice-presidential running mate. Ryan, now 42, was elected to the House of Representatives at 28. He’s a Republican representative. He’s also chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee. He spoke in Virginia right after his selection was made.
REP. PAUL RYAN: I’ve been asked by Governor Romney to serve the country that I love. Janesville, Wisconsin, is where I was born and raised, and I never really left it. It’s our home now. For the last 14 years, I have proudly represented Wisconsin in Congress. There—there I have focused on solving the problems that confront our country, turning ideas into action and action into solutions. I am committed in heart and mind to putting that experience to work in a Romney administration.
This is a crucial moment in the life of our nation, and it is absolutely vital that we select the right man to lead America back to prosperity and greatness. That man—that man is standing right next to me. His name is Mitt Romney, and he will be the next president of the United States of America.
My dad died when I was young. He was a good and decent man. There are a few things he would say that have just always stuck with me. He’d say, "Son, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution." Well, regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem, and Mitt Romney is the solution.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Ryan was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, where he still lives with his wife and three children. He’s a practicing Catholic. As chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan was the architect of a controversial budget plan to cut spending by over $5 trillion over the next 10 years. Democrats have argued his planned Medicare and Medicaid reform would essentially dismantle key components of the social safety net. Speaking in Mooresville, North Carolina, Sunday, Romney contrasted his team’s economic policy with that of the Obama administration.
MITT ROMNEY: There are some who are—who are fearful that if we stay on the track we’re on, we’re going to end up like Greece, and we’re going to have, like Europe has, the chronic high unemployment and the low wage growth and fiscal calamity right at the door. That’s not the path we’ll take us down. I see our president making us more and more like Europe. I don’t want to be like Europe. I want to be like America.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, reaction to Ryan’s addition to the Republican ticket was mixed. President Obama won the state in 2008, but this year Romney hopes to win the state’s 10 electoral votes. This is Wisconsin resident Mark Saphos.
MARK SAPHOS: I think we need more fiscal responsibility in politics today, and I think Paul brings that to the table. I think that’s his greatest asset. Spending and spending and not having the money and printing more money to solve the world’s problems, I don’t think is the way to go. I think Paul is one of the few in politics today that’s willing to address that head on. So I think it’s a great choice.
AMY GOODMAN: Other residents expressed concerns about his fiscal policies. This is Wesley Enterline, also of Wisconsin.
WESLEY ENTERLINE: I personally don’t agree with the direction Paul Ryan wants to go with the financial state of affairs in the country. I don’t plan on voting for either of the major two parties. I really hold environmental concerns as my chief value, and I plan on voting for the Green Party and hope that other people consider the Green Party, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney continued touring key states over the weekend in what some analysts say is a revitalized campaign with Ryan by his side.
Well, to talk more about the implications of his vice-presidential candidacy, we are joined by two Wisconsinites: in Madison, Matthew Rothschild is with us, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine, and here in New York, John Nichols just flew in from Wisconsin, political writer for The Nation, author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.
Welcome you both to Democracy Now! John, let’s start with you. You heard the news on Saturday. Were you surprised?
JOHN NICHOLS: Actually heard the news late Friday night. And I had written some pieces last week about Paul Ryan, not anticipating a certainty of his selection, but it was clear he was moving up the list rapidly. I talked to a lot of Republicans. What they said was that last week was a crisis moment in the Romney campaign. He had—he and his aides had made statements and taken actions that caused many conservatives to be very, very upset. They knew they had to make a hard-right choice—
AMY GOODMAN: And those issues were, that they were most upset about?
JOHN NICHOLS: Number one, Andrea Saul, an aide to Mitt Romney, had said—had started talking up Romneycare, while on the right wing the conservative base of the party hates Obamacare, as they call it, and also Romneycare. That caused Ann Coulter to say, "Maybe we shouldn’t even bother with this year’s presidential race." The right was very upset.
But there was a back story thing that was even bigger. Robert Zoellick, the former U.S. trade representative, head of the World Bank, was put in charge of Romney’s transition campaign. Many of the neocons just went wild. They were furious that—they thought Romney was selling them out. And so, the pressure from the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and other publications, as well as a lot of politicos, really went high on Ryan. And I’m not sure that Ryan wasn’t—there’s no question he was always in the running, but there’s also no doubt that at a point where Mitt Romney was worried about maintaining his base, Paul Ryan became a much more attractive choice, because Ryan is immensely popular with the base.
AMY GOODMAN: When you, Matt Rothschild, heard the news, as you were there in Wisconsin—you have covered Ryan from the beginning at The Progressive magazine. Talk about who Paul Ryan is.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, Amy, I was up north fishing in northern Wisconsin, so it did kind of take me off my vacation. And I was surprised, just as John was, because my initial feeling was that Romney was going to go with Portman of Ohio or Pawlenty of Minnesota. Paul Ryan, though, is a better snake oil salesman of free market capitalism, unbridled capitalism, than either of those two. He also has better, I think, retail political skills. He’s a better person-to-person kind of guy, down to earth. People seem to like him—most people, anyway, in Janesville. At least he’s been winning re-election pretty easily up until now. And so, I think that’s another reason why Romney chose him.
I mean, here’s a guy—first of all, he started his career as a Capitol Hill staffer with Bob Kasten, a real right-wing banker from Wisconsin who beat a great candidate, Ed Garvey, here in a real sleazy campaign. And then Ryan went to work with Sam Brownback of Kansas, so it’s not like he’s been a Wisconsin guy through and through, because he went over to the Kansas side.
But he’s always been this kind of policy wonk. He considers himself a genius in economics, but he’s kind of the one-eyed man in the kingdom, because his theory of economics is really absurd. I mean, he blames FDR and FDR’s policies for making the Great Depression worse. Similarly, he blames Obama for making the economy worse in the first two years. I think any economist of any stature would say that FDR certainly helped get us out of the Great Depression by reducing unemployment from 25 percent to 10 percent and that Obama, though his economic revival in the stimulus package wasn’t nearly as big as it should have been, but certainly it created anywhere between one to two-and-a-half million jobs. Even John McCain’s old economist said that. And so, you know, Ryan gets a lot of mileage for understanding, so-called, the budget and economics, but if you look closely, he doesn’t really get it.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Ryan was heavily influenced by the controversial philosopher, writer, Ayn Rand, known for rejecting collectivism in favor of laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that protected individual rights. As a congressman, Paul Ryan not only tried to get all the interns to read her writing, he also gave copies of her novel Atlas Shrugged to his staff as Christmas presents. I want to turn to a clip of Congress member Ryan speaking about Rand’s influence on him.
REP. PAUL RYAN: 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 versus collectivism. And so, when you take a look at where we are today, some would say we’re on offense, some would say we’re on defense. I’d say it’s a little bit of both. And when you look at the 20th century experiment with collectivism that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism, you can’t find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member, now vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, Paul Ryan. John Nichols, talk about the significance, for people who’ve never heard of Ayn Rand, why what he is saying matters.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, first off, he knows how to pronounce her name. And most people mispronounce it "Ann Rand," A-Y-N. It is in fact Ayn. And Paul Ryan is a deep, deep scholar of and reader of Ayn Rand. She is a—she was a Russian immigrant—family, supposedly dispossessed by the Russian revolution, came to the United States—and throughout her writing career was a militant opponent of what she called collectivism, but really what she meant was government, and beyond that, a critic even of helping your neighbor. She said that selfishness must be the central organizing precept of your life and that the most important thing was to take care of yourself, don’t worry about others.
Now, Paul Ryan started reading Ayn Rand as a very young man, has read all of her books. He has appeared at Ayn Rand celebrations and events. He cut a video in which he said that in these times—this was a video cut about two years ago—one of the most important things people can do is to read Ayn Rand. It’s—he said it was one of the best ways to respond to Obama’s election. So he’s been deeply into this writer.
Now, what’s fascinating is that about a couple months ago, when he was going to speak at a Catholic university, a number of Catholic scholars wrote a letter saying, "You know, we kind of have a problem with this, because Ayn Rand was an atheist who was very condemnatory of what we think of as Catholic social justice teaching and all that." Well, Ryan immediately ran over to the National Review, did an interview and said, "Well, I’m not really a fan of Ayn Rand." It was a bizarre thing, because he was distancing himself from a hero.
AMY GOODMAN: Think Progress writes, "Rand described altruism as 'evil,' condemned Christianity for advocating compassion for the poor, viewed the feminist movement as 'phony,' and called Arabs 'almost totally primitive savages.'"
JOHN NICHOLS: But there’s something more than that. All of that, she did not back Ronald Reagan in 1980 because he was anti-abortion, because she thinks—she thought abortion was a great idea—maybe not for the best of reasons. Now, the fascinating thing is that despite Paul Ryan’s wild attempts in recent months to very much distance himself from Ayn Rand, there was a quote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel yesterday from his brother Tobin, who said, "Oh, Paul can quote every verse of Ayn Rand." And so, I think it’s very important to understand that Paul Ryan—I don’t think he’s an atheist. I think Paul Ryan melds extreme right-wing Catholicism, particularly on social issues, with Ayn Rand’s philosophy as regards government and a very kind of selfish image of how we should relate to others.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion with John Nichols, in studio with us, longtime Wisconsinite—family goes back generations—and Matt Rothschild, who’s in the Madison, Wisconsin, studio, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.