Ayn Rand’s famously fervent devotees are getting ready for their close-up now that fellow enthusiast Rep. Paul Ryan’s has ascended onto the GOP ticket.
Ryan has credited the novelist, who championed an ultra-small government philosophy based on “rational egoism,” as a major influence in his life and career.
Though he has disavowed many of Rand’s social libertarian views, Ryan maintains that her work, particularly “Atlas Shrugged,” “triggered my interest in economics,” he told FOX News’s Brit Hume Tuesday.
Ryan told The Atlas Society, a Randian advocacy group, in 2005 that Rand’s books were “the reason I got involved in public service.”
David Kelley, founder and “Chief Intellectual Officer” of The Atlas Society, told TPM that he was “pleased” to see Ryan get the VP nod even if his group, as a rule, won’t make any presidential endorsements.
“Ryan is one of many famous people, but the most prominent one now, who’s referred to Ayn Rand and brought her ideas more public attention,” he said.
“The most exciting thing is that Paul Ryan’s nomination calls attention now to the philosophy of Ayn Rand and ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ which has inspired so many people in public life,” said Edward Hudgins, director of advocacy for the Atlas Society and a longtime acquaintance of Ryan.
After tea party activists sparked a revival of interest in Rand in 2009, Kelley says he hopes the election season will be a new peak for the movement. He noted that the sequel to the widely panned movie adaptation of “Atlas Shrugged” is set to be released in October.
The filmmakers, however, are a little less enthused about being injected into a political campaign. A spokesman for the production company behind “Atlas Shrugged, Part II,” told TPM that other than a brief “congratulatory statement,” the filmmakers and cast plan to avoid any public discussion of Ryan.
Indeed, there’s a flipside to the attention as well. Just as Democrats are tying Ryan’s hardcore budget-slashing philosophy to Romney, they’re also trying to tie Rand’s far more extreme view of government to Ryan, making the long-dead philosopher his own personal running mate.
“Somewhere in hell, Ayn Rand is cackling with glee,” Democratic strategist Paul Begala wrote in response to the Ryan selection.
The most inflammatory criticism has come from Catholic groups that claim the militantly atheist Rand led Ryan to abandon his own faith with a budget that hurts the needy. Ryan was personally harassed by a Catholic protestor last year asking him to denounce Rand’s views and embrace the Bible.
Ryan, however, has repeatedly made clear that he breaks with Rand in a number of areas, most notably her disdain for religion and her support for abortion rights.
“Those novels, I thought were interesting, but her philosophy, which is quite a bit different, is something I just don’t agree with,” Ryan told FOX Tuesday.
Critics on the left have portrayed Ryan’s attempts to distance himself from Rand as a flip flop given her paramount importance to his economic views. But Hudgins said that he has been up front about his religious objections to objectivism ever since they met as Hill staffers in the 1990s.
When Hudgins invited him to speak to the group in 2005, he recalled that Ryan replied by reminding him, “You know, by the way, I’m a Catholic?” before agreeing to discuss her literary work.
More recently, he said Ryan complained to him about the faith-based attacks over Rand at a recent think tank event.
“He said something to the effect of, ‘Everyone reads Ayn Rand!’” Hudgins said.
Kelley told TPM that he was concerned that Ryan, who he does not consider a true devotee of Rand’s philosophy, could lead to public confusion over her beliefs. In addition to his Catholicism and pro-life positions, Ryan’s budgets are still a far cry from the Randian ideal, which Kelley described as a “radical reduction” in government that would eliminate all social welfare programs entirely.
“I’ve seen headlines like ‘Ayn Rand in the White House,’ which is ludicrous,” he said. “None of these candidate are going to embody all parts of Ayn Rand’s vision.”
Still, he didn’t want to sell the vice presidential nominee short — he said he saw Rand’s influence in Ryan’s desire “to move the country towards more freedom for people and more self reliance.”
“I assume that’s part of Ryan’s — and for that matter Romney’s — interest in entitlement reform,” he said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.