Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just Make Stuff Up

Cynthia Tucker is a syndicated columnist who was awarded a Pulitzer in 2007 for first-rate commentary. It's probably good that she won her prize before her most recent column came out because otherwise it'd surely have disqualified her. She writes about how Paul Ryan was influenced by Ayn Rand and manages to get almost everything wrong.

Here are a couple of lowlights:
Rep. Paul Ryan, now the GOP vice presidential nominee, is an Ayn Rand acolyte, a loyal adherent to the philosophies of a woman whose views have enthralled fringe segments of the conservative movement for more than half a century. He is famous for giving her novels to staffers in his office.

He has even called her works the inspiration for his government career, according to an August profile by New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, who quoted from a 2005 speech the congressman gave to the Atlas Society, an Ayn Rand fan club.
It's hard to imagine why Tucker thinks that it's just the fringes of the conservative movement who have found elements of Rand's message appealing. Her most popular books, Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, still sell tens of thousands of copies 50 - 60 years after their release and Atlas is often said to be the second most influential book, after the Bible, ever written.

She goes on to quote Ryan:
“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. The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism,” Ryan told the group.

That helps to explain Ryan’s ideas about the federal budget, which he would radically downsize to shrink the programs that help the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, and just about everybody else who needs the occasional helping hand. In Rand’s philosophy, the brilliant, the well-born and the lucky have no obligation to the struggling stiffs whose jobs don’t guarantee riches. Indeed, she believed altruism was foolish.
Of course Tucker shamelessly misrepresents Ryan here. So far from wanting to cut off programs that help those who need an "occasional helping hand," he's arguing that unless costs are reined in these programs will not survive. This is a fact of economic life which seems to have completely eluded Ms. Tucker. She evidently thinks that doing nothing to save entitlement programs is the noble option for the poor and doing what's necessary to save the programs is somehow selfish.
But nothing explains how the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged came to captivate so many economic gurus of the modern conservative movement, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
A paragraph or so ago it was only the "fringes" who were captivated by Rand. Now the fringe includes Alan Greenspan. Later in the column she states that "Rand has been elevated to a central figure in conservatism." Ms. Tucker apparently has difficulty remembering what she's written from one paragraph to the next.
[Rand's] “objectivism” is nothing more than rank selfishness promoted to a grand economic and cultural philosophy. (Among her works is one titled “The Virtue of Selfishness.”)
Yes, and Ryan has specifically said he finds Rand's egoistic philosophy of objectivism unpalatable. It's not her selfishness or her atheism that attracts conservative readers. It's her championing of those who produce and the perennial latch on like lampreys to the producers and job creators by government which wants to take everything they can from those who create wealth in order to sustain a bloated welfare state.
What’s more, Rand was an atheist and libertine whose private life was testament to her fierce belief that individuals should be free to do whatever they please, no matter the consequences to others. Though married, she conducted a long-running affair with one of her young disciples, in view of their spouses. She mocked Christianity, proclaiming it anathema to reason. She once told an interviewer that faith “is a sign of a psychological weakness. … I regard it as evil to place your emotions, your desire, above the evidence of what your mind knows. That’s what you’re doing with the idea of God.” She’s a strange role model for members of a political party that claims to represent religious conviction and personal probity.
This is a very odd paragraph for a liberal progressive to write. In almost every place where Tucker refers to Rand one could substitute the name Marx and the paragraph would be unchanged, and yet progressives find much in Marx to admire.

Every thinker has baggage. Liberals resonate with Marx's analysis of the economic class struggle, but if someone were to try to tie liberals to Marx's views on the family, or violent revolution, or communism, or tie them to Marx's sordid personal life, the progressive would plead that we need to separate the gold from the dross. Ryan does the same thing with Rand.
Still, Ryan’s indifference to the plight of weaker members of society shows how the modern conservative movement has tortured and refashioned traditional Christian beliefs. There is very little of the teachings of Jesus — who told a rich man to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor — in a right-wing religious nationalism that holds the poor in contempt.
This is a slander for which Tucker has no justification, but evidently she doesn't feel the need to support such ugly charges. Ryan is personally steeped in Catholic social teaching which is itself steeped in the Gospel message. Anyone who's unaware of this hasn't listened to Ryan and should not be writing columns making such irresponsible allegations. No fair-minded person can read Ryan's letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, for example, and still say that Ryan is "torturing" or "refashioning" traditional Christian beliefs.
Last year, liberal activist James Salt confronted Ryan with a Bible and demanded that he read the Gospel of Luke. It was a cheap political stunt, but Ryan’s reaction was telling. He rushed to a waiting vehicle but refused to accept the Bible he was offered.
This is a nice touch - mindlessly wrapping a cheap political shot in a story about a cheap political stunt. It's commentary like Tucker's that makes people so weary of the liberal media. They seem to think that if you can't argue on the facts then just make stuff up, no matter how badly it misrepresents the target.