When they booed Paul Ryan at the American Association of Retired Persons last week, most people didn't even know he called Medicare and Social Security "third party or socialist-based systems." Or that he said he wants to privatize them in order to "break the back" of a "collectivist philosophy."
On recently transcribed remarks from an audio recording, Ryan said his ideas and values were shaped by an extremist author who thought humanity must "reject the morality of altruism," and that his opinions on monetary policy are guided by a fictional speech which says "the words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality."
That author says the "collectivist philosophy" Ryan ascribes to Social Security and Medicare is a "looters' credo." By that reckoning, anyone who receives assistance from the government -- including disabled combat veterans or impoverished children -- is a "looter."
"Seniors are looters." Wonder how that would have gone over at the AARP? "Disabled veterans are looters." How would that play at the local VFW?
This recording confirms that the GOP's Vice Presidential candidate is the most politically extreme major-party candidate in living memory. His views have already drawn the opposition of Catholic theologians, as well as advocates for lower-income people, the middle class, seniors, the disabled and children.
If those views were better known, they'd also alienate independents, Democrats and seniors, as well as most Republicans and Tea Party members.
And by "alienate," we mean terrify.
Ryan's 2005 remarks were made at a gathering entitled "A Celebration of Ayn Rand," in which Rand's often-cultlike followers gathered to celebrate their strange heroine.
Audio of Rep. Paul Ryan speaking to the Atlas Society's "Celebration of Ayn Rand," 2005
How extreme, how far from the mainstream, was Rand's thinking? She was profoundly hostile to the idea that human beings should help one another, writing that "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject." Rand also wrote that "Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life."
Oh, and the hero of Rand's novel The Fountainhead commits an act of terrorism. He's an architect who blows up a building because he's angry that his design was changed.
Watch your back, John Boehner.
People should be free to explore any ideas, no matter how far out of the mainstream, without public censure or government restrictions. I've debated Rand acolytes and have always enjoyed the exchange of ideas. But imagine how the press would react if the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate had attended, say, "A Celebration of Karl Marx," where adherents approvingly quoted the final paragraph of the Communist Manifesto?
That's the paragraph which concludes, "... the ends can only be achieved by forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions."
Sects, Lies, and Audiotape
Ryan said this at the "Celebration":
I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and [in] the fight we're engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand ... and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.
Ryan also said "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."
Remember Rand's words: "If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject." That's the philosophy that Ryan says framed his "value systems" and beliefs.
It's true that Ryan tried to distance himself from Rand this year -- "thrice," as Brad DeLong noted. But the public portions of the "Celebration" speech put the lie to those claims.
DeLong's use of the word "thrice" is a subtle reference to the Biblical story of the betrayal of Christ by Judas, after which St. Peter denied Jesus that many times "ere the cock crowed." But if Ryan has publicly betrayed Rand, he's did so primarily by criticizing her catheism and not her political philosophy.
It's only fair to point out another difference between the Biblical story and Ryan's: unlike Judas (and reportedly a number of Rand's disciples as well), Paul Ryan did not kiss his leader.
On the contrary. Ryan said that Rand's writing "inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged ... We go to Fountainhead (note: that's the one whose hero commits a terrorist act) ... (and) I always go back to... Francisco d'Anconia's speech [in Atlas Shrugged] on money when I think about monetary policy."
What did d'Anconia say in Atlas Shrugged? "Do not envy a worthless heir ... Do not think (his wealth) should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one ... " Rand/d'Anconia also says "To love money is to know and love the fact that money is the creation of the best power within you ... "
Here's what Rand-as-d'Anconia says about any wealthy person with a conscience: "Swarms of looters that stay under rocks for centuries come crawling out at the first smell of a man who begs to be forgiven for the guilt of owning wealth. They will hasten to relieve him of the guilt -- and of his life, as he deserves." (Rand's writings frequently exult in the deaths of anyone she considers inferior.)
The speech also says that "Money is the barometer of a society's virtue," adding: "The words 'to make money' hold the essence of human morality... Now the looters' credo has brought you to regard your proudest achievements as a hallmark of shame, your prosperity as guilt, your greatest men, the industrialists, as blackguards... "
For those who prefer democracy to being subjugated by the wealthy, Rand/d'Anconia offers these words: "The rotter who simpers that he sees no difference between the power of the dollar and the power of the whip, ought to learn the difference on his own hide -- as, I think, he will."
(Whips are a favored Rand image; don't even think about it.)
This is the speech that Paul Ryan says he reflects on whenever monetary policy is discussed.
Ryan said the political debates in Washington, "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 vs. collectivism."
Ryan trains his apocalyptically ideological worldview squarely on the nation's seniors and disabled, calling both Medicare and Social Security "third party or socialist-based systems" that must be dismantled in their present form. He laments the collectivist victory that will take place
... if we do not succeed in switching these programs, in reforming these programs from what some people call a defined benefit system, to a defined contribution system ... and I'm talking about health care, as well -- from a third party or socialist based system to an individually owned, individually prefunded, individually directed system.
Ryan adds: "We can do this. We are on offense on a lot of these ideas."
These words were spoken in 2005. Since then the Democrats have had -- and lost -- Congress, with Social Security a key element in both their victory and their defeat. But despite the election of a Democratic President, Ryan's radical ideas are still on the "offense" and these popular programs are still on defense.
That's Not His Cross to Bear
Ryan's proposals are opposed by virtually all advocates for seniors, the disabled, veterans and children. His ideas also place him in opposition to mainstream Catholic and Christian theology. The audio of his appearance before a group of Ayn Rand followers included a partial transcript, but it was Catholic theologian Vincent Miller who transcribed the parts about Social Security and Medicare and brought them to light.
Catholic theologians have long condemned Ayn Rand's economic philosophy in writings such as the Jesuit-published book,Architects of the Culture of Death. Charles Pierce has been tracking Ryan's conflicts with the Jesuits for a while, and he pointed us to Miller's reaction to this latest audio revelation:
Miller also writes of "the threat this philosophy poses to the Catholic faithful." His words were published online in America: The National Catholic Weekly, which is described as a "Catholic media ministry." Miller's bio states that he is "Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton."
(Ryan's) philosophy leaves no room for Catholic notions of Government in service to the common good, there is no room for a social conception of the human person ... Ryan's policies are based on a political philosophy completely at odds with the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine.
He is also a very good writer.
Ironically, Rand saves her greatest praise for those who 'build' things, a category which ironically includes neither Romney (a career investor) nor Ryan (a career government official). They'e not even architects like Rand's bomb-planting protagonist in The Fountainhead.
But that doesn't mean they don't have a blueprint. From Ryan's "Celebration" speech:
I was the principlal author of the Health Savings Account law, which was an amendment I brought to the floor and passed in the Medicare bill in the last session of Congress. Health Savings Accounts, personal accounts for Social Securities, these are the things that put us on offense, that get the- the individual back in the game and break the back of this collectivist philosophy that really pervades, you know, ninety percent of the thinking around here in this town.
In case that wasn't clear enough, Ryan added: "I think if we win a few of these right now -- moving health care to a consumer based, individualist system, moving Social Security to an individually pre-owned, pre-funded retirement system -- just those two right there will do so much to change the dynamics in this society."
Randian extremism speaks through Romney, too, as when he says of the now-famous and mythical "47 percent," "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Maybe he can't -- but Paul Ryan can. Together Romney and Ryan hope to dismantle the programs we've built together as a nation. Those programs guarantee us financial security in our senior years or if we're disabled. They feel the same way about other programs for poor and middle-income Americans. Romney may have done less of the required reading, but he's just as extreme as his running mate.
Chapter and Verse
Bill Maher was right when he said that "the God Mitt Romney worships isn't in the Bible, it's in the Cayman Islands or Geneva," and that putting God on money is "redundant" because money has become our God. You can thank Ayn Rand and her acolytes, from Alan Greenspan to Paul Ryan, for that theological shift.
Mitt Romney's secret video showed that he shares the delusionally sheltered and narcissistic worldview of his ultra-wealthy peer group. Paul Ryan's recording reveals his radical hostility toward the nation's most popular social programs. Together they display a deep reverence for money, a rejection of the social values that have guided our society since it was founded, and contempt for the idea that people can and should work together to solve their common problems.
The story of Judas is found in Matthew 26, but Ryan's Catholic critics are more likely inspired by words from the preceding chapter. That's the one where Jesus says, "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these" -- fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the homeless -- "so too have you done it unto me."
"The least of these." Or as the Romney/Ryan/Rand crowd calls them, "looters."
(Many people, including my own stepmother, have chastised me in the Huffington Post comments section for saying "thrice" refers to "the story of Judas."It was Peter, not Judas, did the thrice-denying. I know that! But I've always thought of Matthew 26 as Judas' story. I still maintain that I was on sound scriptural ground, but I've changed the wording for clarity - and to stop an incipient Sunday school teachers' riot. Now will you please keep those rulers away from my knuckles?)