Right-leaning columnist David Brooks and left-leaning columnist Paul Krugman have finally agreed on something. As it happens, they both wrote about the subject on the same day, which is this: Paul Ryan inhabits a fantasy world.
According to Krugman, Paul Ryan’s well-known affinity for Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is common “among adolescent boys,” but most outgrow the attachment–presumably as they mature. Ryan has called the author’s ideas the inspiration for his political career, but has recently tried to distance himself from those declarations of fealty. The fact that Rand was an atheist and a proponent of abortion is no doubt the ‘inspiration’ for his change-of-mind. Nevertheless, Ryan has also said that he required his staff and interns to read her book.
Krugman sees a problem with a politician taking his fiscal policies from fictional characters, from a make-believe setting in which ‘productive’ people are exalted at the expense of the common man. In his column, Krugman states that Rand “is deadly serious about cutting taxes on the rich and slashing aid to the poor, very much in line with Rand’s worship of the successful and contempt for ‘moochers’.” However, Ryan’s attitude isn’t simply about saving money and reducing the deficit. “He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor–for their own good.” Some of the fiscal policies he embraces from Rand would take the country back 200 years.
Krugman ended today’s reflections with a question for the GOP and anyone leaning in their direction: “What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?”
It’s interesting that conservative columnist David Brooks adopted a similar theme in his column. He says that Paul Ryan had an opportunity to do enormous economic good for the country but instead opted to embrace a political fantasy. Brooks was referring to the work of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission appointed by President Obama several years ago. The commission proposed changes in the tax code and a cap on the size of government that would have substantially reduced the federal debt. Even though some conservatives voted in favor of the proposal, Ryan did not, with the rationale that Medicare reform was not included. Instead, he chose to hold out for the 2012 election before undertaking change. In Brooks’ words, “Ryan was willing to sacrifice the good for the sake of the ultimate.”
The problem with this position, according to Brooks, is that Ryan was betting on an imaginary vision for 2012: that the GOP would win the Presidency, that they would win overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, and that Republicans would then be willing to decimate one of America’s most popular programs. “To put it another way,” Brooks wrote, “Ryan was giving up significant debt progress for a political fantasy…It is the fantasy that the other party will not exist.” Brooks winds up his column with this statement about Ryan: “He missed the chance to do something good for the country, even if it wasn’t the best he or I would wish for.”
Both men, from the right and the left, are more or less calling Paul Ryan delusional, plus they see him as more committed to forcing a misguided ethic onto the country than to actually attacking the federal deficit. When the two sides agree on a man’s character, isn’t it time for the rest of the country to listen?