Almost as soon as Paul Ryan was announced as Mitt Romney’s choice for the Republican vice presidential nominee, the left began an interesting line of attack: smearing Ryan as some sort of cultist of the philosopher and Atlas Shrugged novelist Ayn Rand.
Breitbart’s Warner Todd Huston pointed out a number of faults with this argument in an excellent piece called Lefty Attack: Paul Ryan a Follower of Ayn Rand, but on issues such as abortion, Rand and Ryan are actually polar opposites. The left has noticed these differences, but rather than do the honest thing and clarify the distinction, they have actually used it to create a sort of smear journalism trifecta. They attack both Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand and deliberately mangle the pro-life position.
To equate Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand does no justice to their respective positions. Yes, Ryan has said that Rand was an influence on him, but it appears as though that she had the same effect on Paul Ryan as she had on many on the libertarian/right, serving as something of a “gateway drug“ to Austrian economists such as F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. As any adherent of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism will tell you, politics wasn't Rand's main concern, and her philosophy has a complete metaphysics, epistemology and ethics that her politics rest on. Ryan was inspired by Rand's work in some senses, but let's not take it too far. It's much more accurate to say that Obama is an Alinskyite than to say Ryan is any sort of Randian.
Case in point: on an issue like abortion, there are big differences between Rand and Ryan. Let’s let them lay out their cases in their own words. My point here is not to argue for one side or another but simply to lay out the facts of what Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand have actually said.
First, here is Ayn Rand on abortion. This first quote is from The Ayn Rand Letter from 1976.
Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . .
If that isn’t clear enough for you, this is from her essay Of Living Death, which is available in her book The Voice of Reason.
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).
Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?
As you can see, Ayn Rand takes a hard-line pro-choice position. It’s more or less indistinguishable from the position that the pro-choice left takes today, although as an advocate of limited government, Rand opposed state funding for abortions.
More importantly, Rand’s formulation in Of Living Death isn’t merely pro-choice; it’s explicitly, avowedly anti-Catholic. At one point in that essay, for example, she equates a papal encyclical to communism. It’s as far from Ryan’s solidly Catholic position as one could get.
Paul Ryan is unabashedly pro-life. He has a Zero rating from NARAL’s Pro-Choice America and a perfect score from the National Right to Life Committee. He also makes the case that being pro-life is completely consistent with being pro-capitalist. In the short essay The Cause of Life Can’t be Severed from the Cause of Freedom on his congressional website, Ryan makes his case:
As a champion of capitalism, I strongly support every person’s right to make these economic choices and to fight against government efforts to limit them. Freedom and the choice it implies are moral rights which Americans are granted, not from government but from the principles that have made this a great and prosperous society. These principles uphold the equal natural rights of all human beings to live, be free, and pursue happiness, insofar as the exercise of these rights does not violate the corresponding rights of others.
Yet, identifying who “qualifies” as a human being has historically proved to be more difficult than the above examples suggest. Twice in the past the U.S. Supreme Court—charged with being the guardian of rights—has failed so drastically in making this crucial determination that it “disqualified” a whole category of human beings, with profoundly tragic results.
The first time was in the 1857 case, Dred Scott v. Sandford. The Court held, absurdly, that Africans and their American descendants, whether slave or free, could not be citizens with a right to go to court to enforce contracts or rights or for any other reason. Why? Because “among the whole human race,” the Court declared, “the enslaved African race were not intended to be included…[T]hey had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” In other words, persons of African origin did not “qualify” as human beings for purposes of protecting their natural rights. It was held that, since the white man did not recognize them as having such rights, they didn’t have them. The implication was that Africans were property—things that white persons could choose to buy and sell. In contrast, whites did “qualify,” so government protected their natural rights.
Every person in this country was wounded the day this dreadful opinion was handed down by this nation’s highest tribunal. It made a mockery of the American idea that human equality and rights were given by God and recognized by government, not constructed by governments or ethnic groups by consensus vote. The abhorrent decision directly led to terrible bloodshed and opened up a racial gap that has never been completely overcome. The second time the Court failed in a case regarding the definition of “human” was in Roe v. Wade in 1973, when the Supreme Court made virtually the identical mistake.
The contrast could be not clearer on the issue between Rand and Ryan. It’s easily researched. Yet, the Left media can’t just lay out these positions clearly. They misreport while at the same time deciding which position is right. They can’t tell their readers that Ayn Rand takes a position that the lockstep left would agree with, because that might engender some sympathy for Ayn Rand; nor can they explain Ryan’s views without using insults designed to scare.
For example, in the subtly titled Paul Ryan’s Extreme Abortion Views, Michelle Goldberg at The Daily Beast writes:
Indeed, Ryan exemplifies a strange sort of ideological hybrid that now dominates the GOP. On economic issues, he’s a hardcore libertarian who once said, “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker…it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”
Yet when it comes to women’s control of their bodies, he quickly turns into a statist.
This is a bizarre and dishonest formulation; the notion that being anything other than "a hardcore libertarian" on an issue is somehow "a strange sort of ideological hybrid" from the GOP. Words have meanings. Conservatism isn’t the same as libertarianism. Therefore, conservatives by definition aren’t "hardcore libertarians". Of course, none of this matters to the Left, who want to have it both ways -- attacking conservative positions and then, when it suits them, equating conservative positions with libetarian positions and then attacking those.
It also ignores Paul Ryan’s actual ideological position, where he fuses his pro-capitalist and pro-life stance and says very clearly that they are one in the same. To extend the metaphor to slavery that Ryan himself uses, Goldberg might as well say, “Paul Ryan is a strange hybrid who claims to be libertarian on the economy but when it comes to masters controlling their slaves, he suddenly turns into a statist.”
Slate’s Emily Bazelon demostrates that she understands Ryan’s position in her piece Paul Ryan: Libertarian on the Market, the Opposite on Abortion but dismisses it precisely because it’s ideologically consistent.
This is the anti-abortion talking point that leads directly to the personhood amendments, which, it's worth noting, don't have universal support in anti-abortion circles. The group that pushes hardest for these amendments at the state level, Personhood USA, is not a well-funded powerhouse within the anti-abortion movement. Other pro-life groups tend to keep their distance, or even oppose the amendments, as the National Right to Life did in Mississippi last year. That's because these laws appear to ban standard in vitro procedures by granting legal rights to fertilized embryos, and even if you oppose abortion, you might think that's a loser at the Supreme Court or that it risks alienating mainstream voters.
The idea that Paul Ryan may actually hold a position without referencing its popularity with a segment of voters doesn’t seem to occur to Ms.Bazelon. As Calvin Freiburger points out in a piece about the coverage of Ryan and abortion on Live Action News:
Here we see one of the key reasons American politics remains so bitter and understanding seems so unreachable: liberals simply don’t understand conservatives and refuse to consider the possibility that there might be some kernel of sincerity or insight behind our beliefs.
As Andrew Breitbart said in his last CPAC speech, “Everything has changed in the last few years. Conservatives used to take it. And we’re not taking it anymore.” So pity the liberal media establishment. Now there’s a possibility of some of that sincerity or insight poking through their hermetic seal of misrepresentation from time to time.