Why do lefties keep accusing Rep. Paul Ryan of making Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged required reading for his staff? Maybe because he said, "It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff," and now we can hear him say it. Last week, when Ryan called it an "urban legend" that he was a Ayn Rand devotee -- "I reject her philosophy," he told the National Review -- it seemed like part of an effort to take Ryan more mainstream, now that he's a potential running mate for Mitt Romney. (A profile in The New York Times Monday goes further in humanizing him, revealing that the congressman is a Rage Against the Machine fan and gym rat.) But The Atlas Society, the group devoted to Rand that hosted Paul's talk, is making the mainstreaming more difficult by posting the audio of his address. You listen to the whole clip, but as the quotes from the audio below show, in 2005, before it seemed like an immediate possibility that his national ambitions could be fulfilled, Ryan was proud to be a total Ayn Rand fanboy:

  • "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, that’s what I tell people."
  • "I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are."
  • "It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well."
  • "But 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 when you look at the twentieth-century experiment with collectivism—that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism—you can’t find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand."
  • "It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are."
  • "Because there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works." 

Monday is Paul Ryan Day on the Internet, fitting given how popular Ryan is, according to the TimesJonathan Weisman: "Among Republicans in and outside Mr. Ryan’s immediate circle, the admiration verges on infatuation." But New York's Jonathan Chait argues that Ryan's reputation in the press as a bipartisan budget reformer is unearned.

In 2001, Ryan led a coterie of conservatives who complained that George W. Bush’s $1.2 trillion tax cut was too small, and too focused on the middle class. In 2003, he lobbied Republicans to pass Bush’s deficit-­financed prescription-drug benefit, which bestowed huge profits on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. In 2005, when Bush campaigned to introduce private accounts into Social Security, Ryan fervently crusaded for the concept. He was the sponsor in the House of a bill to create new private accounts funded entirely by borrowing, with no benefit cuts. Ryan’s plan was so staggeringly profligate, entailing more than $2 trillion in new debt over the first decade alone, that even the Bush administration opposed it as “irresponsible.”

Further, Ryan sat on the bipartisan committee led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson that crafted a sweeping plan to cut the deficit in 2010. Ryan voted against it, but he frequently attacks President Obama for not doing enough to support it. Ryan's own deficit-cutting proposal has no defense cuts, and won't specify which of the trillions of dollars' worth of tax deductions he'd eliminate.  And to understand what principles inspired Ryan's budget proposals, Chait suggest one handy guide: Ayn Rand.

Rand is a useful touchstone to understand Ryan’s public philosophy. She centered libertarian philosophy around a defense of capitalism in general and, in particular, a conception of politics as a class war pitting virtuous producers against parasites who illegitimately use the power of the state to seize their wealth...

Ryan now frequently casts his opposition to Obama in technocratic terms, but he hasn’t always done so. “It is not enough to say that President Obama’s taxes are too big or the health-care plan doesn’t work for this or that policy reason,” Ryan said in 2009. “It is the morality of what is occurring right now, and how it offends the morality of individuals working toward their own free will to produce, to achieve, to succeed, that is under attack, and it is that what I think Ayn Rand would be commenting on.” Ryan’s philosophical opposition to a government that forces the “makers” to subsidize the “takers”—terms he still employs—is foundational; the policy details are secondary.

The congressman posted a video talking about the author on his Facebook page in 2009; he said Rand's thinking was "sorely needed right now." Maybe Ryan looks back on his Ayn Rand fandom the way most of us look back on our Rage Against the Machine phase -- as a slightly embarrassing but amusing youthful indiscretion. One that lasted until he was 39.