By Dustin J. Byrdm, Guest Blogger
The planned retirement of House Speaker John Boehner left the GOP in quite the conundrum; who could possibly lead a house divided not only by party, but also within a party? Who could bridge the gap between the traditional Reagan conservatives, who are often deemed the “establishment,” and the pathologically anti-Obama Ayn Rand-inspired Tea Party wing of the GOP? A challenge indeed, considering that John Boehner, the consummate politician, could not suture this philosophical tear between the factions despite his years of political experience and likeable character. But if diversity is strength, why was this a problem for Boehner? The answer is in the philosophies that currently animate GOP politics.
Political scientists tell us that the Democratic Party is more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, religious background, class, etc., which studies of voting patterns certainly demonstrate. However, they are much more in agreement of their basic political and economic platform. On the other hand, the Republican Party is much more diverse philosophically; it is currently divided between traditional Reagan conservatives, neo-conservatives, libertarians, the Religious Right, and men like Donald Trump (a political-economic philosophy all unto himself), which causes an intense headache for anyone attempting to lead such a motley crew of contending viewpoints. Who then could lead this tossed salad of political dysfunction?
In comes Paul Ryan, the Senator from Wisconsin and oft declared “whiz kid” of economics, who was the one-time Vice President Nominee under Mitt Romney. It became very clear that Senator Ryan did not want to fill the undesirable shoes of Speaker Boehner… who would? Nevertheless, Ryan was pressured into taking the position because it was thought that he, and only he, had the capacity to bring the warring factions of the GOP together. But what made Ryan so well equipped for this impossible task?
The answer to this lies in his political-economic and religious philosophy. Paul Ryan is both a Catholic and a follower of Ayn Rand. Clearly for anyone who is familiar with the basic teachings of the Catholic church and the anti-Christian atheist philosopher Ayn Rand, also known as the “Goddess of the Market,” can surmise that the values, principles, and ideals of Jesus of Nazareth, and all his altruism, cannot be reconciled with the radical free-market values espoused by a philosopher who thought altruism was purely evil. When Ryan’s Janus-faced allegiance to Christ and the anti-Christ (as Rand called herself) became front page news during the 2012 presidential election, Ryan backpedaled his fidelity to the “radical atheist” Ayn Rand as not to lose the Evangelical vote, yet he continued with the basic economic platform espoused by Rand (with minor modifications). Although he insisted that his faith was firmly with the Catholic Church, and especially St. Thomas Aquinas, his Randian economic views were called out by the Catholic Church itself, in the form a two April 2012 letters; first coming from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and the second coming from the Faculty from the Jesuit Georgetown University, both castigating his attempts to camouflage Rand’s philosophy in his anti-poor and anti-worker budget behind the Catholic magisterium. The Georgetown faculty wrote, “your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.” The USCCB wrote that they were “concerned” that Ryan was portraying his “dangerous” budget as being “compatible with the teaching of his Christian faith.” They stated that “this budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good. A budget that turns its back on the hungry, the elderly and the sick while giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest few can’t be justified in Christian terms.” In other words, Ryan’s budget slashed all help for the most vulnerable Americans, what Ayn Rand called the “losers,” “parasites,” and “moochers,” what the church called preferred of Jesus. Ryan, knowing he could not cite Rand for his anti-poor views, tried to make Jesus of Nazareth the inspiration for such legislation.
Maybe this is the reason why the Republican leadership begged Paul Ryan to lead the dysfunctional house: only he could reconcile philosophies that are irreconcilable. Just as he believed he could be both a devout Catholic and a faithful follower of a philosopher who hated Christianity, precisely because it had a preferential option for the poor, he also believes he can reconcile the irreconcilable political factions that have left the House of Representatives in a paralyzed state. However, if history is our judge, just as Ayn Rand and the Crucified cannot be homogenized; neither can the competing philosophies within the GOP. But it should be entertaining watching the “whiz kid” try!
Author of A Critique of Ayn Rand's Philosophy of Religion: The Gospel According to John Galt, Dustin J. Byrd is assistant professor of humanities at Olivet College.