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A Hard Look at Paul Ryan

Posted on Aug 9, 2012
Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The New Yorker has published an insightful, if unsurprising, profile of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, detailing how the young lawmaker became a champion of today’s form of arch-libertarianism and how he’s worked to push that ideology into the mainstream of the Republican Party.

Among other reforms, the congressman wants to slash taxes for the rich, end Medicare and Medicaid and privatize Social Security. Although Ryan’s latest budget plan, grandly titled “The Path to Prosperity,” may not explicitly call for all of those changes, Ryan Lizza, the author of the profile, makes it clear that the document is only the latest in a number of revisions, through which Ryan has been forced to temper his ambitions in order to gain the support of Republicans oriented closer to the political center. And he’s succeeded. The current Republican presidential candidate is an advocate.

“I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan,” Mitt Romney said while campaigning in Chicago in mid-March. The following week in Wisconsin he added, “I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and adopt it and pass it along to the president.”

“To envisage what Republicans would do if they win in November,” Lizza writes, “the person to understand is not necessarily Romney, who has been a policy cipher all his public life. The person to understand is Paul Ryan.”

Like many libertarians, Ryan’s path to becoming an evangelist of radical individualism began when he encountered the novels of Ayn Rand in high school. His views appear not to have changed much since.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker:

His father’s death also provoked the kind of existential soul-searching that most kids don’t undertake until college. “I was, like, ‘What is the meaning?’ ” he said. “I just did lots of reading, lots of introspection. I read everything I could get my hands on.” Like many conservatives, he claims to have been profoundly affected by Ayn Rand. After reading “Atlas Shrugged,” he told me, “I said, ‘Wow, I’ve got to check out this economics thing.’ What I liked about her novels was their devastating indictment of the fatal conceit of socialism, of too much government.” He dived into Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman.

In a 2005 speech to a group of Rand devotees called the Atlas Society, Ryan said that Rand was required reading for his office staff and interns. “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,” he told the group. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” To me he was careful to point out that he rejects Rand’s atheism.

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