Paul Ryan is the token conservative

Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's selection of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan -- the leader of the Republican Party's rigid economic conservatives -- as his running mate has been described as "bold." Bold can be good, such as "to boldly go where no man has gone before." Or, bold can be not so good, as in "boldly deceptive."

The Republican Party's 2008 nominee, John McCain, directed some friendly fire at Romney, saying he had made "a pretty bold choice," and further, it reminded him of his own selection of Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin. That reminds me of what the Greek historian Thucydides said: "Ignorance is bold and knowledge reserved."

For many Americans, Ryan is a blank slate; they've barely heard of him. So let us ask the "sudden, bold and unexpected question." Who are Ryan's mentors and role models? Whose philosophies does he want to insinuate into America? One is economist Milton Friedman, whose vulture capitalism morphs into corporatism, destroying economies across the globe, as detailed in Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine."

But Ryan is most identified with Ayn Rand, author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." Indeed, he credits her with his decision to enter politics, telling a 2005 gathering honoring Ayn Rand, "If I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand."

For an Ayn Rand disciple, her books, like scripture, are a treasure-house of quotes. For example: "Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men."

Now, though, in true Romney fashion, Ryan is in the process of distancing himself from the woman he gave credit to as his inspiration to seek public office. This past spring (while under consideration as Romney's running mate), Ryan threw Ayn under the bus, telling National Review her reputed influence on him was but "an urban myth."

Ryan seems to be an apostle of those Republican strategists who advise their presidential candidates to deny boldly. Maybe Romney's ways are already rubbing off on him. We all know about Romney's tax evasiveness. Now Romney claims he's made full disclosure of his personal finances to the Government Office on Ethics. Yet, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich forced him to publish his 2010 tax return during the contentious GOP primary, a Los Angeles Times investigation discovered "at least 23 funds and partnerships listed in the couple's 2010 tax returns (that) did not show up or were not listed in the same fashion on Romney's "declaration to the Office on Ethics."

Romney twists himself around every issue (abortion, climate change, the health care individual mandate -- to name a few), so at one point, like a corkscrew, he's on every side of it. By selecting Ryan, best known for his radical plan to end Medicare for future retirees and who also once advocated for privatizing Social Security, Romney hopes to capture the Ayn Rand true-believer wing of the Tea Party.

Still, it was no coincidence that former White House Bush aide John Sununu went to great lengths to distinguish between Ryan's and Romney's budget. Romney himself backtracked from Ryan's proposals two days after the selection. Romney, you'll recall, heartily endorsed Ryan's budget, saying it would be "marvelous" if the Senate passed it and sent it to Obama.

But put aside Romney's boldly beating around the budget bush. His replacement for Medicare is practically interchangeable with Ryan's -- despite Sununu's blustering. As Harry Truman once said, "If you can't convince them, confuse them."

Ryan has called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" that he wants to end as a "collectivist system" that is undermining American individualism. Ryan ignores the fact that each individual American earns his or her share of this "collectivist system" through personal, hard work. Ironically, Ayn Rand didn't share Ryan's feelings. Social Security records show she applied for, and collected, her Social Security.

Social Security turned 77 on Aug. 14. Along with Medicare and Medicaid, it is an expression of our compassion and respect -- our commitment to social responsibility and our regard for individual enterprise. We expect each person to earn his or her way, we help those who need assistance along the way, and we return the individual's investment in "we the people" at the end of that way.

Romney's selection of Ryan shows his chameleon-like character. His selection of Ryan as his running mate reveals a clever mind seeking to capitalize (so to speak) on the fame Ryan has among right-wing conservatives. While at the same time disowning Ryan's work, he keeps it waiting in the wings.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News.