It’s likely that John Galt, the iconic hero of Ayn Rand’s paean to selfish one percent-ism, Atlas Shrugged, would’ve welcomed Jesus’ crucifixion. Curiously, though, Rand’s apostle of radical egotism and Christianity’s cherished exemplar of righteous self-abnegation are both venerated by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
About Ryan’s devotion to Rand there is no doubt. His embrace of the Randian creed supposedly occurred in the wake of his father’s death when the future vice presidential candidate was just 16. “I concluded I’ve got to either sink or swim in life,” he told Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker.
And swim he did, demonstrating the sort of drive of Rand’s celebrated übermenschen embodied by John Galt, who, in the apotheosis of Atlas Shrugged, delivers a 70-page sermon expressing Rand’s gospel. “You are your own highest value Galt intones. “As a man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul.” No wonder, then, that Ryan, cast as an exemplar of entrepreneurial pluck, credits Rand with teaching him “quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are.” Ryan even requires that his congressional staff read Rand.
Never mind that the Ryan hails from a prominent family whose fortune was made building federal highways and airports, or that his university expenses were partly paid for by Social Security survivor benefits, or that he has spent his entire career in government on the public dole, or that he has secured millions in taxpayer-funded earmarks for his district during his time in Congress. In his own mind he’s a “maker,” not a “taker,” or the pathetic 47 percent of Americans who in Mitt Romney’s words don’t take “personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Ryan’s budget plan, A Roadmap for America’s Future, bears out The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier observation that “the ideal of self-reliance in America has always been attended by a corollary of indifference to others, or nastiness.” The plan’s preamble is haltingly Galtesque: “Dependency drains individual character, which in turn weakens American Society. The process suffocates individual initiative and transforms self-reliance into a vice and government dependency into a virtue.”
To combat parasitic moocherism, the Roadmap slashes Medicaid and food stamps and turns Medicare into a voucher, while simultaneously cutting taxes for large corporations and the wealthy, or the “job creators” in conservative argot. The Washington Post’s Matt Miller points out that the plan would add $62 trillion to the national debt before balancing the budget in a half century. If the legislation sounds catastrophically misguided and immoral in the extreme, it’s only because you’re a wastrel. Read Ayn Rand. And get a job!
The Roadmap may be many things but original it’s not. The powerful few have embraced a feudal-like ethos to justify exploiting the powerless many from time immemorial. Ryan’s Rand-inspired legislation merely gussies up the haves common disdain for the unwashed masses. Nothing new there.
On the other side of the struggle for social justice are those of good conscience, and perhaps nobody better personifies moral righteousness than Jesus Christ, a proto-communist who, according to the Bible, died fighting the Randian worldview exalting cupidity. Jesus’ gospel remains strikingly revolutionary to this day. In Mathew 19:24, he says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Throughout the Gospels, he preaches the importance of loving thy neighbor and caring for the less fortunate, a message repeated throughout the New Testament. Liberal Christian author and theologian Jim Wallis notes that the Bible contains 2,500 verses about the poor.
John Galt would not approve of Jesus’ communitarian message. Yet somehow the Rand-loving Ryan, a practicing Catholic who participates in a weekly prayer group on Capitol Hill and flies home on Thursday nights so he can take his children to their Catholic school the following morning, reveres the Bible. His youth ministry lessons might have really paid off for him to show such ardent devotion to the church and God.
This paradox isn’t limited to Ryan, but rather is a microcosm of the peculiar amalgamation of laissez-faire fundamentalists and evangelical Christians that inhabit the same GOP tent. Of course, the market Jihadis, who generally hold the reigns of power in the Republican Party, tend to ignore the evangelicals, while the evangelicals tend to ignore Jesus’ teachings, but it’s a messy arrangement nevertheless.
But who says that consistency is all that important anyway? Ayn Rand collected Social Security and Medicare benefits while Christ was supposedly born of a virgin. Seen in this light, Paul Ryan isn’t unusually ass-backwards; he’s about average for a Republican. What, then, is one to do? For those with a high tolerance for gobsmacking inconsistency, do as Atlas does according to one of Rand’s characters, just shrug. The rest should vote Democratic.