Rep. Paul Ryan, looking to undercut his image as a hard-hearted Objectivist, has told the National Review of one of his favorite authors, Ayn Rand, "I reject her philosophy... It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview." It's a surprising statement, given that Ryan said nearly the complete opposite in 2005: "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 she didn't drive him into politics because he couldn't stand her philosophy, either. Ryan made those comments at a dinner in Washington, D.C. honoring Ayn Rand's birthday -- hosted by The Atlas Society, a group that takes its name from Rand's book Atlas Shrugged and is dedicated to promoting her ideas. But today, in an interview with National Review's Robert Costa, Ryan says something very different:
‘You know you’ve arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine,” chuckles Representative Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, as we discuss his purported obsession with author and philosopher Ayn Rand... These Rand-related slams, Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist...
"If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas... Don’t give me Ayn Rand..."
Where does this terrible urban legend come from? Some conservatives have been working to stamp it out recently: "Ryan Isn’t a Randian," the National Review's Brian Bolduc wrote just a couple weeks ago. Bolduc writes that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman "dubbed the congressman 'an Ayn Rand devotee,' an oft-employed epithet among Ryan’s detractors." But the Ryan-hearts-Rand meme wasn't created by liberals. You know who else said Ryan was a Rand "devotee"? Tucker Carlson, founder of the conservative Daily Caller. A year ago, Benjamin Domenech wrote that, contra New York magazine and other newspapers, "Paul Ryan Doesn't Require Staffers to Read Ayn Ran." For some reason, those staffers wouldn't say so on the record. Maybe that's because Ryan started the rumor himself. He's publicly talked about Rand on multiple occasions:
- He told Insight on the News on May 24, 1999, that the books he most often rereads are "The Bible, Friedrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged."
- He told the Weekly Standard on March 17, 2003, "I give out Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well... I try to make my interns read it."
- At a February 28, 2009 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Ryan said Obama was trying "to use this [financial] crisis to move America toward the sort of Europeanized economy… Sounds like something right out of an Ayn Rand novel."
At the 2005 birthday party for Rand, Ryan said, "Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill... is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict -- individualism versus collectivism." That doesn't sound so "antithetical" to Rand's worldview. For decades, Rand has been popular among fiscal conservatives from Alan Greenspan to Rick Santellii. But it makes sense that a politician with national aspirations wouldn't want to be too closely associated with Rand, who not only espoused philosophy a little further right than your average voter -- "Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction" -- but was also a little weird. Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and Republican budget wonk, has got tough competition to be Mitt Romney's running mate. There's the equally dreamy Marco Rubio, not to mention the pleasantly boring Rob Portman. So Ryan needs to fix any weaknesses. That's why Ryan gave a big foreign policy address last year, why he talked about his humble beginnings "flipping burgers" earlier this month, and probably why he's distancing himself from Ayn Rand. It's a genius spin, really -- not only does he reject her, he rejects her for socially conservative reasons!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.