From December 16, 2010
It's very telling that the GOP chose rising star Paul Ryan to deliver the official GOP response to the SOTU tonight. While perhaps not so camera-ready as Chris Christie (!!!), Ryan is the author of the latest Republican salvo against the wellbeing and welfare of most Americans: the Road Map for America's Future.
Even a cursory perusal of Ryan's plan reveals its Randian roots: it calls for the privatization of all social safety net programs. Jan Schakowski called his plan "frightening":
We don't know exactly what Ryan will say in his response to the president. But we do know plenty about what this self-proclaimed budget hawk has already said. He laid it all out in a document he calls "A Roadmap for America's Future." In it was his simple plan for health care reform: destroy Medicare as we know it by giving seniors a fixed dollar voucher and sending them off to find an insurance company that will cover them. That's after raising the age of Medicare eligibility. He also revives the discredited idea of privatizing Social Security and raising the retirement age. Good luck, Grandma!
He enthusiastically joined every Republican to vote to repeal the health care bill, despite the independent, non-partisan Congressional Budget Office declaring that repeal adds $230 Billion more to the deficit. "The CBO is entitled to its opinion," declared Speaker John Boehner. Dismissing the CBO is equivalent to throwing the umpire out of the baseball game and replacing him with your team's coach. But that's just exactly what the new Republican rules allow -- if they disagree with the CBO, they simply throw out the call.
Ryan and the Republicans have announced their plans to slash the budget by reducing all non-defense discretionary spending back to 2008 levels -- at best. At worst, many Republicans want to go back to 2006 levels - Bush's last budget. The Washington Post calculated that 2008 spending levels mean a 16% cut for the FBI, 13% for national parks, and more than a $1,000 cut in college Pell Grants from the current $5,500 maximum grants. My state of Illinois, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, could see a $1.3 billion cut in federal support, forcing state and local government to lay off teachers and police and firefighters.
There are big winners in Paul Ryan's "Roadmap" and you can guess who they are. He would cut taxes for the wealthy, completely eliminate the corporate income tax, and create a value added tax. According to the Tax Policy Center, his plan would raise taxes for the bottom 95 percent of American wage earners and cut taxes for the top five percent. The top 0.1 percent would see an average tax cut of $1.7 million -- every year!
In case you haven't noticed, the same big winners have been stuffing themselves with cash for the last two decades while the rest of America has been barely holding its own. The top 1 percent of Americans control 34 percent of the wealth while the bottom 90 percent (almost everyone -- get it?) control 29 percent. There is greater income inequality in the United States than in any other industrialized country.
Ryan is reported enthralled by Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. Apparently so enthralled that he requires staffers to read "Atlas Shrugged" and gives the novel out as gifts. I've said before, I come from the generation that inhaled the notion that "greed is good", but all "Atlas Shrugged" serves to do is offer a massive rationalization for being a selfish prick. It inherently is not good for a civilized society, because the very definition of a society is a group of people living as a community, not individuals living only for their own benefit.
Not that Paul Ryan cares. But I wonder if Ryan's world would be rocked to know that even his hero couldn't live up to the standards of the philosophy she espoused:
Critics of Social Security and Medicare frequently invoke the words and ideals of author and philosopher Ayn Rand, one of the fiercest critics of federal insurance programs. But a little-known fact is that Ayn Rand herself collected Social Security. She may also have received Medicare benefits.
An interview recently surfaced that was conducted in 1998 by the Ayn Rand Institute with a social worker who says she helped Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, sign up for Social Security and Medicare in 1974.
Federal records obtained through a Freedom of Information act request confirm the Social Security benefits. A similar FOI request was unable to either prove or disprove the Medicare claim.
Between December 1974 and her death in March 1982, Rand collected a total of $11,002 in monthly Social Security payments. O’Connor received $2,943 between December 1974 and his death in November 1979.[..]
The couple registered for benefits shortly after Rand, a two-pack-a-day smoker, had surgery for lung cancer in the summer of 1974. Medicare had been enacted nine years earlier in the Social Security Act of 1965 to provide health insurance to those age 65 and older. [..]
Rand herself called altruism a “basic evil” and referred to those who perpetuate the system of taxation and redistribution as “looters” and “moochers.” She wrote in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness” that accepting any government controls is “delivering oneself into gradual enslavement.” In a 1972 edition of her newsletter, she said:
Morally and economically, the welfare state creates an ever accelerating downward pull. Morally, the chance to satisfy demands by force spreads the demands wider and wider, with less and less pretense at justification. Economically, the forced demands of one group create hardships for all others, thus producing an inextricable mixture of actual victims and plain parasites. Since need, not achievement, is held as the criterion of rewards, the government necessarily keeps sacrificing the more productive groups to the less productive, gradually chaining the top level of the economy, then the next level, then the next.[..]
Rand often spoke of moral absolutism, saying “There can be no compromise on basic principles,” but the realities of aging and illness seem to have softened her stance. Social Security, and perhaps Medicare, allowed Rand and her husband to maintain their quality of life, remain in their apartment and live out their final years with dignity.
And yet it is that dignity that Paul Ryan wants to deny most Americans.