You can learn a lot about people from the company they keep, even if that company is in the form of ghosts on a bookshelf. And yes, when it comes to fiscal policy, Paul Ryan loves Ayn Rand.
The Washington Post published a long, belabored essay last week on what Rand’s philosophies say about Mitt Ryan’s new running mate (funny, no one seemed quite this curious about Joe Biden’s library). And Dave Weigel at Slate published another, in which he admits that Ryan’s quoted Thomas Aquinas as a much bigger influence on his politics. But who wants to talk about some 13th century theologian — only known as the Church’s greatest philosopher — when Rand is so controversial?
Weigel, for one, thinks the Ryan-Rand connection is so potent, in fact, he writes that “he can no more denounce Rand than he can denounce his own white grandmother.”
Cute. Now, Ryan certainly is a Rand devotee. He’s said as much. But so are most conservatives, who at least in some part profess an appreciation for Rand’s objectivism and her iconic treatise-cum-novel Atlas Shrugged. Whether or not his Randian applications to the economy make for the kinds of nefarious characterological implications that some are suggesting seems a little far-fetched.
And decidedly gauche, no?
At least if we’ve learned anything from the 2008 presidential election, it’s that these sorts of projects — trying to understand a candidate’s worldview based on the people he says have shaped his worldview — are simply not tolerated. In fact, I distinctly remember when we were trying to get to know Barack Obama — the guy on the top of the ticket, mind you — conservatives asked the kinds of questions that, up until then, had been fairly well-accepted practice in a presidential campaign. Who are you? Where did you come from? What do you believe?
But because Obama’s campaign, his two memoirs not withstanding, was so cagey about all of that information, and the liberal media was happy to leave those gaps unanswered, voters had to fill in the blanks themselves. And it turns out, it wasn’t that hard.
They found out about Obama’s father, Barack Sr., a socialist activist the President devotes a book to, “Dreams From My Father.” They found out about Saul Alinsky, author of “Rules For Radicals,” who influenced young Barack into community organizing. They found out about Frank Marshall Davis, a labor activist and communist in Hawaii that Obama wrote highly of. They also found out about Roberto Unger, Obama’s Harvard law professor who is sick and tired of American hegemony.
There are plenty of others — notably Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — people who, unlike Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand, Obama actually knew, and has himself cited in various places, before mounting a presidential run, as having influenced his political philosophy.
But conservatives were told over and over again in 2008 — scolded, really — that they were racist, small-minded, fanatical extremists if they tried to make any connections, tenuous or otherwise, between Obama and his self-proclaimed mentors and influences.
Questions about his father, his professors, his friends, his pastor…all off-limits.
Of course now the shoe is on the other foot and an author Ryan really likes will define him.
We should want to know who’s influenced our candidates, personally, politically, philosophically. All that matters. But after 2008, when we were lambasted and excoriated for asking those questions, and intimidated away from making those connections with Obama, it’s a little hard to take any of the attempts to define Ryan or Romney by the left all that seriously.
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.