Let’s establish a fact immediately: Paul Ryan is not some reluctant, aw-shucks country bumpkin who traveled to Washington D.C.—a real-life Mr. Smith gone to Washington. This just isn’t reality. Not if one looks at Ryan’s academic and early post-academic biography. (More on that below.)
I grew up a mere 25 minutes from Ryan’s hometown, Janesville, and I can say quite confidently that there are many of us whose dreams extend far beyond our modest landscape. What is more, the politicians of those state and federal districts of southeastern Wisconsin are as ambitious and cunning as they come. Want to meet some aw-shucks country bumpkins in that geographical area? Email me and I’ll give you a tour, and we won’t be passing Paul Ryan’s home or office. We’ll grab some delicious sweet corn while we’re at it. You’ve never had sweet corn until you’ve had Wisconsin sweet corn.
A decade ago, Paul Ryan flew under the radar of the national scene. Back when I was at university—the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Political Science, to be exact—Ryan was a 30 year old representative running for re-election. That semester, being able to vote for the first time, I cast my vote on the one hand for Ralph Nader for president (call it a protest vote), but voted for Ryan since I was a permanent resident of his congressional district at the time, even though I was living in Madison, Wisconsin.
My Political Economy professor, Neil Richardson, asked us to write an essay on a congressional race of our choosing in 2000. I selected the Paul Ryan-Jeffrey C. Thomas race for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. Back then I was quite a fiscal conversative, though socially liberal. Later, in 2002, a Ryan aide even took me on a tour of the congressional buildings in 2002. I was in D.C. at the time to interview for an internship with Ryan that never materialized, mostly out of my own laziness. How different might I have turned out had I been force fed Randian philosophy like Ryan’s other staffers.
Back to the paper. Ryan was easy to like. He seemed intelligent in the way that George W. Bush was not. He was all about sensible reform in government to cut waste, which was appealing to me (still is). But he didn’t have the outward expressions of an ideologue. His great strength was, and perhaps still is, that he didn’t incite negative feelings.
As I researched the paper, however, I soon gathered information about Ryan’s pre-representative days. He had studied economics at Miami University in Ohio, worked as an intern and staff economist for GOP Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten, then rather quickly worked for conservative ideologue Bill Bennett’s Empower America. In short order, Ryan also found work as a speechwriter for former VP candidate Jack Kemp and then the Christian theocratic Senator Sam Brownback (Kansas). Is this the path of a reluctant individual?
Although I ultimately wrote a positive paper on Ryan’s campaign, singling him out as a possible future GOP presidential candidate (a shot in the dark based on his youth and Kennedy-like appearance), I was nonetheless concerned about his history with Bennett.
Bennett, to the unitiated, is a conservative blowhard and a hypocrit. A man who condemned modern, Liberal virtues, then parlayed this moralizing into a multi-millionaire dollar industry that financed a gambling addiction. He is not as venomnous as, say, a Rush Limbaugh, being more modest in his rhetorical delivery, but he displays all the hallmarks of a used car salesman, or televangelist—someone you should generally not trust. It was under his tutelage that the Paul Ryan we have come to know took shape.
Paul Ryan has done a great deal of work, both wonky and PR-related, to present an image that he is the sentinel of “fiscal sanity,” to use his own words. The truth is much more opaque, as one could imagine.
To start, Ryan’s idea of fiscal sanity involves voting for the TARP bailout, as well as the bailouts of GM and Chrysler. Ryan, who voted against medical marijuana (in D.C.), also supports the immense costs of the drug war, which in 40 years has cost the American people $1 trillion in tax dollars with no end in sight.
Ryan’s fiscal sanity also means supporting the US government’s approximately $1 trillion annual Department of Defense budget. Apparently he believes that outspending the Chinese military nearly 10-1 is taxpayer dollars well spent. Further, he believes that exactly none of the Pentagon’s budget should be subject to austerity cuts, unlike the ones he’d like to levy against the so-called welfare and medicaid queens and blood-sucking elderly medicare vampires. Ryan’s theory seems to be that the US must protect its citizens from invasion, but not from poverty and ill health.
Ryan’s military cheerleading isn’t so much about national security, but protecting the corporate class—which he admires largely because of Ayn Rand‘s economic philosophy. You may have already heard of Ryan’s admiration of Rand, but proceed below surface level and what one finds is a belief that only the corporate class, the “job creators,” is worthy of society’s glorification. The poor, the unfortunate, the tax dollar leeches, they are a weight on economic progress.
As Rand stated, ”Do not make the mistake… of thinking that a worker is a slave and that he holds his job by his employer’s permission. He does not hold it by permission – but by contract, that is, by a voluntary mutual agreement. A worker can quit his job; a slave cannot.”
Indeed, but isn’t being at the mercy of jobs with little to no upward mobility just another form of servitude? To Ryan, the working class needn’t worry because it can just find another job, and none should dare complain about the quality of that job—its pay, its psychological implications, etc.
To Ryan and Rand, the corporate class and inventors are the heroes, which, to an extent is true. We must cultivate the best minds and unleash them to solve the world’s problems; but let’s not mistake gambling bankers and investors, those who hedge while the world crumbles, for Randian heroes. As the US economy has proven time and again—most recently in 2007 with the sub-prime crisis—a seemingly functioning economy can conceal a vast system of crime and corruption, both corporate and government. What has Ryan done to stop these men and women who are not worthy of hero status?
And as Foxconn’s slave labor and factory accidents prove in the case of Apple’s great products, the brilliance of a hero (Steve Jobs) almost always comes with a cost. What does Rand or Ryan have to say about this reality?
Rand also said:
Neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive by any random means, as a parasite, a moocher or a looter, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment—so he is free to seek his happiness in any irrational fraud, any whim, any delusion, any mindless escape from reality, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment nor to escape the consequences.
One can see how Rand must have shaped Ryan’s mind. How the progressive cause, the altruistic impulse in humanity, can be distilled to a form of parasitism. A man who reads Rand, works for Bill Bennett, then Jack Kemp and then runs for congress at the age of 28 is not a reluctant champion of the people. Quite the contrary, he must see himself as a champion of heros—a hero himself.
The truth is that Ryan, like much of D.C.’s politicians and bureaucrats, is the real leech sucking at the still beating but quickly vanishing heart of democracy.
Paul Ryan is not an evil man, though—merely misguided. Like Obama, he has never created nor run a business in his life, yet he speaks as though he were some authority on the matter. It is as though he were stuck inside of a Randian fiction of his own making.
Indeed, Paul Ryan has set himself up as the hero of an insidious form of fiction.