What An Ayn Rand View Could Do For Romney

Mitt Romney's newly announced running mate, Paul Ryan, has long subscribed to the objectivist philosophies of novelist Ayn Rand. Host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about how that approach to public policy will play with voters.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, you're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

PAUL RYAN: The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one - think of one person, it would be Ayn Rand.

RAZ: That's Congressman Paul Ryan in a 2005 speech to The Atlas Society. That's a group devoted to objectivism the teachings of Ayn Rand. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us now as he does most Saturdays. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Guy.

RAZ: We will get to the Ayn Rand stuff in moment, but first, a bold, risky - these are the terms we're now hearing. We've heard it before when Bill Clinton picked Al Gore, when Gore picked Lieberman, McCain going with Palin. Are we talking risky, and what does it say about Mitt Romney?

FALLOWS: The pattern of vice presidential nomination is they've usually had more downside surprise potential than upside when there's a new face on the scene. We think back of Dan Quayle with the first George Bush and, of course, Sarah Palin recently. And so when a candidate steps beyond sort of the predictable ticket balancing calculation, which in this case probably would have led Governor Romney to Senator Portman of Ohio or perhaps Governor Pawlenty, it suggests that he thinks the trajectory he's on is not working out and something needs to change. And the recent polls have suggested that for Governor Romney. So I think this is a signal they need to try something new.

RAZ: You've written on your blog this morning, Jim, that this pick is good for the country, good for our national debate. How so?

FALLOWS: Paul Ryan has a defined view of America's fiscal future. You can agree with it, you can disagree with it, but you know what it is. And so far, as you and I have discussed before, the main logic of the campaign has been Governor Romney saying things aren't' working out under President Obama, let's try something new. Now, we have a clearer idea of what that new thing would be. And I think that actually will add some grit to the campaign in the next couple of months.

RAZ: How does this pick make life easier for Mitt Romney and also for President Obama?

FALLOWS: So far, it does seem to be energizing the Republican base. Paul Ryan is young. He's very, very popular among a lot of the Republican primary field that had been so-so about Governor Romney. For President Obama, it probably will make it easier to do what the Democrats were doing a year ago and saying, this Ryan plan's going to do things to Medicare, to Social Security, to tax rates and all the rest that you might not like. So it probably makes it easier for Romney to shore up his base and easier for Obama to appeal to the middle.

RAZ: As we heard earlier, Jim, Paul Ryan has said he was inspired to go into politics after reading Ayn Rand's novels. This is a world view, which has become more mainstream in recent years, embraced by bigger parts of the Republican Party. But it's an economic world view that is still controversial and, well, pretty radical.

FALLOWS: It is. I speak with some knowledge of this field. When I was a young man in Southern California in the 1960s, I spent a lot of time steeped in the works of Ayn Rand. And there is a crispness to its view that you do see coming through a lot of Paul Ryan's speeches over the last decade of essentially looking on social welfare and the state in general as a kind of organized theft and as something that makes things not work well.

The interesting twist here, she is, on the one hand, economically very conservative in the ways the Republican Party is, too, but she is an atheist or she was a proud atheist. She denounced religion and all sorts of...

RAZ: And Paul Ryan has disavowed that part.

FALLOWS: Yes, he has - has these years. But I think it will be a challenge for the ticket to embrace the parts of the Ayn Rand objectivist vision that inspire his base while distancing himself from the parts which would be challenges to the religious part of his constituency.

RAZ: Jim, there is going to be much talk about whether Paul Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare will alienate older voters. But I wonder whether it could actually attract younger voters, you know, younger voters who view the big entitlement programs as a fiscal nightmare.

FALLOWS: Sure. And I think that would be the most appealing way he could make the argument - in a way, he has - over the last few years in saying that in the long-run for today's Generation X and Generation Y and beyond that, the United States needs to be on a sounder fiscal balance, he will claim.

And he tries to have it both ways in protecting people who were born before 1957 from any kind of change in their benefits but then saying for the younger people he's going to do things that will make the whole economy work better. There is the grim actuarial reality that older voters turn out more than younger voters do.

RAZ: That's James Fallows. He is national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thank you.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Guy.

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