"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34).
I don't often have New Testament quotations floating through my consciousness but these words of Jesus Christ as he was being crucified keep entering my mind as I consider Mitt Romney's recent selection of Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential candidate, particularly as it relates to Ryan's lifelong worship of Ayn Rand and his disingenuous pandering to Christian fundamentalists. How is all this possible?
In a now mostly forgotten 1959 television interview by the late Mike Wallace, Ayn Rand, Russian immigrant and author of the novel "Atlas Shrugged", gave Americans a chilling explanation of her self-invented philosophy she called 'Objectivism'. Arguing that reason based solely on self-interest is the only moral required for life, she defines 'altruism' to be an "evil force". Under pointed questioning by Wallace she describes herself as an atheist who doesn't believe in self-sacrifice for others under any circumstance (a view not commonly held by most prominent atheists who profess that altruism and moral character are a natural part of human instinct necessary for survival of the species). Using this unique and caustic morality she goes on in the interview to justify and indeed promote the notion that unbridled industrialists operating in a totally unregulated free market capitalist model would be the salvation of man. Obviously anti-socialist (even though she collected Social Security and Medicare in her later years), she goes on to deride most all of the institutions of American democracy, espousing a dangerously narrow view of our Constitution that would make even the most libertarian conservatives of today squirm.
So how could it happen that a self-described atheist (and pro-choice advocate) become associated with the religious right? Even William F. Buckley, hero of early neo-conservatism, published in his 'National Review' a review of "Atlas Shrugged" by Whittaker Chambers calling it a thousand pages of "lack of goodness" promoting a godless society. How could the ideas of an ant-theist with such scorn for charity become the cornerstone of fundamentalist Christian politics?
Enter Paul Ryan and his cadre of faux libertarian manipulators. During the 1940's and 50's Ayn Rand attracted to her 'objectivist' philosophy a number of early libertarians including Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises and a youthful Alan Greenspan who was to become the recent Federal Reserve Chairman. They began holding regular meetings in New York becoming what has been loosely termed "the collective", an obvious pun on their anti-Marxist attitudes (Rand participated in the McCarthy era House Un-American Activities Hearings as a protagonist). In spite of her anti-religious stance and other philosophical differences she became the darling of these supposedly 'true' libertarians for her insistence on a totally unregulated form of free market economy (interesting in that no business entity has ever existed outside the legal framework granted to it by a sovereign nation except for piracy and black markets).
Friedrich Hayek, considered the father of libertarianism, founder of the Austrian school of economic thought, and perennial rival of John Maynard Keynes lamented in his later days that there were no 'true' libertarians because they all make exceptions and only use that which serves their own personal agenda. So it is the case with the Paul Ryans of the political world. Paul Ryan who as recently as 2005 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”, completely ignores the anti-theist, anti-altruist, sterile argument that is the basis of her philosophy. And he can't plead ignorance. The above words were spoken at a meeting of The Atlas Society, a group that promotes the Randian philosophy, at a celebration of what would have been Ayn Rand's 100th birthday. And he told the 'Weekly Standard' in 2003 that he gives out copies of "Atlas Shrugged" for Christmas presents and asks his interns to read it. Conveniently, however, Ryan has denied his connection to Rand just in the last few months. Really Paul, you can't run from your past....you just can't.
What is most remarkable is how right-wing political figures like Paul Ryan have been able to fool the religious right. Somehow they have been able to engender a metamorphosis of fundamentalist Christian values that sees government helping the poor as being evil and any regulation of business a violation of God-given rights. But this is not at all a new phenomenon. Politicians like George Bush, Dick Cheney and their advisor Karl Rove knew early on that their only hope was to get people to vote against their own best interest. They saw the religious right as a low hanging fruit to be plucked....and pluck they did by pandering to them with promises of government intrusion on issues involving 'family values' (certainly not views of a true libertarian) and, in doing so, co-sign Jesus Christ's name to a philosophy of greed and nihilism. In the end many fundamentalists became disenchanted with their alliance when it became obvious that all the Bush/Cheney camp wanted was their vote and the policy efforts they had been promised never materialized.
But apparently memories are short-lived. The 2012 Election has become a replay of the 2000 election, only with a new and more virulent cast of characters. Funded by PACS that could not give a damn about Christian values, the Republican Party has veered toward the far right and become dominated by fake libertarians and conservative corporatists. The self-interest embodied as the keystone of Ayn Rand's philosophy is the underlying theme of their campaign. It could not be more obvious.
When Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate he signed on to this dark and fraudulent philosophy. He has cast aside any hopes of capturing the moderate conservative vote in favor of opportunistic demonization of those who really lack any power... the poor, the elderly, the sick. From now until the election we'll see nothing from them but veiled attacks on gays, women, immigrants, the unemployed, minorities of race and religion, and all done in a manner which appeals to a bastardized and distorted view of Christian values.
It's time that people of faith as well as those who see altruism as the natural instinct that elevates humanity to account for themselves. The alternative is a legitimized barbaric system that pits one man against another so that the few can prosper. In order to accomplish their goal they will have to run from their pasts. Let's not let them.