Paul Ryan's Skeleton in the Closet

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Paul Ryan is either a chameleon, a flip-flopper or a liar. There is no third alternative. I vote "liar."

I'm really staggered by the media's softball handling of what is going to become known in the waning months of this campaign as Mitt Romney's Ayn Rand Problem.

For years, his newly minted running mate has championed Rand, a Russian-born author chiefly known for her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. In those books and in essays, speeches and interviews, Rand celebrated greed and selfishness, rejected Judeo-Christian morality, and set forth an alien vision of a nearly government-free America that would be ruled by its industrialists and bankers -- an untaxed super-rich elite. She was a strident atheist.

Then, in April, Ryan had an apparent change of heart. He gave an interview to the National Review in which he disavowed Rand entirely. Ryan said that, yes, like a lot of people he'd read Rand as a youth, but he certainly was not an adherent to her philosophy.

"I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand's novels when I was young. I enjoyed them," Ryan told the National Review. That got him interested in the Chicago School of economics and in Milton Friedman. "But it's a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist."

The National Review went on thusly: " 'I reject her philosophy,' Ryan says firmly. 'It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person's view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,' who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. 'Don't give me Ayn Rand.' "

There's nothing more unsavory than smearing somebody because of views he held years ago. I remember how teed-off my parents were back in the 1960s, when the Democratic boss of the Bronx, Congressman Charles Buckley, smeared his Reform Democrat challenger Jonathan Bingham as an anti-Semite because he was a youthful member of the isolationist America First Committee. Yes, he was, but that was years ago and his views had changed. Buckley was voted out and Bingham became the congressmen in a largely Jewish district.

"These Rand-related slams, Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist," said the magazine's Robert Costa, who quoted Ryan as saying, "You know you've arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine."

If Ryan is getting a bad rap as a Randian, then he is definitely a victim of an injustice. But Ryan didn't have a brief flirtation with this atheistic, amoral -- but highly appealing -- philosophy as a youth. He was a full-fledged Randian as a Congressman. He didn't change his views. He is lying about them.

In 2005, he gave a speech to the Atlas Society, an organization devoted to the promulgation of Rand's views. A tape recorder was running. An audio file of his speech can be accessed here. It's important to listen to the entire tape, which runs about 20 minutes, to understand the full depths of Ryan's dishonesty.

"I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It's inspired me so much that it's required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.

"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.

"When you look at the 20th century experiment with collectivism that Ayn Rand more than anybody else did such a good job of articulating, the pitfalls of statism and collectivism, you can't find a thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand."

He went on and on like that, speaking like the strident Objectivist that he is, invoking Rand hero John Galt and the "money speech" in Atlas Shrugged, beloved by all Rand followers, given by the dissolute playboy (but covert government-hating revolutionary) Francisco d'Anconia: "It's so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand's vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d'Anconia's speech ... on money when I think about monetary policy," Ryan said.

Ryan said that he would go back to Galt and d'Anconia and "a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I could check my premises, so that I know that what I'm believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism."

"Check your premises" is a Randian slogan, predicated on the belief that all us bad-thinking non-Randians are shaping our belief systems on poor assumptions. If we understood the fallacious premises behind our beliefs, we'd be card-carrying Objectivists. Use of this rote catchphrase by Ryan shows how wedded he is to her philosophy and worldview.

Sure, it's possible that Ryan had a sudden change of heart since 2005. But the chances of that are reduced to nearly zero by his claim that he is the victim of an "urban legend." This is a man running away from his past, not candidly acknowledging it and saying that he has changed his views, as Bingham did. The people of the Bronx forgave him. Ryan, apparently, feels that's not an option, and clearly expects that he'll be able to lie about his Ayn Rand philosophy and get away with it.

Now, to be fair, not all followers of Objectivism necessarily buy all of her views. Ryan is a strident opponent of abortion, and Rand was militantly in favor of a woman's right to choose. In fact, Ryan is an extremist on the subject. They may differ in other areas. But all one has to do is read through his mind-blowing budget plan, which would shift the burden of budget-cutting to the poor and middle class -- while totally exempting the rich from any sacrifice -- to know that Ayn Rand continues to dominate Paul Ryan's worldview. The strident, Rand-quoting Paul Ryan of 2005 is very much the same Paul Ryan who is running for vice president today.

So let's call a spade a spade. When Paul Ryan distances himself from Ayn Rand, he's not obfuscating. He's not flip-flopping. He's not being a chameleon, trying to appeal to a wider national audience, one that might be put off by Rand's atheism, by concealing his true views. He's lying.

Gary Weiss's most recent book is AYN RAND NATION: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, published by St. Martin's Press.