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Paul Ryan Doesn't Follow Ayn Rand on Civil Liberties | The Nation

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Ben Adler

Ben Adler

 The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.

Paul Ryan Doesn't Follow Ayn Rand on Civil Liberties

Throughout his career Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proudly touted the influence of philosopher Ayn Rand on his political beliefs. Rand’s most devoted followers are returning the favor. “I think the announcement is great news,” Aaron Day, the CEO of the Atlas Society, an organization dedicated to promoting Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, told POLITICO in an email. “The influence of Rand on Ryan as it relates to the role and nature of government is a huge step forward for the liberty movement. Ryan highlighted the principles of liberty, freedom, free enterprise, and self-determination (all consistent with Ayn Rand’s philosophy).”

This, alas, is false. It is true that Ryan, like his mentor Jack Kemp, subscribes to Rand’s heartless belief in refusing to aid the less fortunate. But Ryan does not share any of Rand’s commitments to freedom, other than the freedom to be selfish.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a report on the Republican vice-presidential contenders. Ryan’s record is just as bad as the others’, and his running mate’s. Writing in the Huffington Post, ACLU president Anthony Romero observed, “There’s no constitutional daylight between Ryan’s civil liberties positions and Romney’s and that means a pall of darkness over our Constitution and the rights it guarantees.”

Here are some examples:

-§ Immigration: Libertarians believe in open borders, but Paul Ryan doesn’t. Ryan opposes the DREAM Act and he voted in favor of building a fence along the US border with Mexico.

-§ Gay rights: Ryan has voted in favor of amending the US Constitution to ban gay marriage. He supported banning gay marriage in Wisconsin and opposed letting gay soldiers serve openly in the military. It is impossible to support individual freedom and limited government while trying to amend the Constitution to take away the rights of consenting adults to marry the person they love, and to take away the rights of more civilized states to recognize such unions.

-§ Reproductive rights: Ryan has all the usual right-wing positions on abortion. He has voted to ban federal funding of abortions and even for training healthcare providers in abortion care. He also opposes requiring insurers to provide coverage for contraception. One could justify that on libertarian grounds by arguing that granting the freedom to get an abortion or obtain contraception is not the same as requiring companies or taxpayers to pay for it. But some of his positions are indefensible. For example, Ryan has voted to ban abortion in Washington, DC. The notion that Wisconsites in Congress should tell the more progressive citizens of DC how to live their private lives is the epitome of heavy-handed federal authoritarianism. Ryan also co-sponsored the “Protect Life Act” which would trample on states’ rights and individual economic liberty by preventing women from using their own money to buy an insurance plan that covers abortion on state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

-§ Voting Rights: Ryan supports laws that require voters to show photo identification. This imposition on the constitutional right of every citizen to cast a ballot could disenfranchise millions of low-income Americans, amounting a modern-day poll tax.

Reporters and pundits are raising Ryan’s long history of praising Rand and requiring his staffers to read her books. They also note that Ryan has more recently repudiated her, especially her atheism, in an effort to appeal to religious social conservatives. Unfortunately, Ryan has actually never supported many central tenets of libertarianism. Unless it is an excuse to support a policy benefiting the wealthy at the expense of the poor, Ryan has no interest in individual liberty.

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