I have something in common with Republican vice presidential nominee Congressman Paul Ryan: We were both friends with the late Congressman Jack Kemp. Today, some Republicans are comparing Paul Ryan to Kemp. That is a slur on Kemp.
As a recent, extensive portrait of Ryan in the New York Times notes, such comparisons are far from accurate:
Over the years, Mr. Ryan’s emphasis shifted. Mr. Kemp was not nearly as concerned with cutting government programs as Mr. Ryan is today. They agreed on [low] taxes, but their views on spending and the role of government were different.
Kemp was Ryan’s mentor when Ryan was in his 20s, and they remained close. But in the substantial differences between Kemp and Ryan one can read another story: the slide of the Republican Party into extremism.
Jack will be remembered as a compassionate mainstream Republican. Ryan has become a living caricature of the Tea Party. Jack became an evangelical Christian who had been raised in the Christian Science Church. And that church was hardly devoted to selfishness. Mary Baker Eddy taught that a life of service should include work benefiting the community and an overarching plan for the betterment of all humanity. Ryan was raised a Roman Catholic but today worships at the altar of the goddess of the undeserving self-loving elite — Ayn Rand — and calls her his “single most influential thinker.”
From the 1970s to the early 1990s, I was a regular visitor to the Kemps’ home, as were my parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer. This had a lot to do with the “Schaeffer Group” that met in their house to study my parents’ evangelical books. I also used to meet Jack on the road when he dropped by events at which Dad or I were speaking and vice versa.
We fell out of touch after I fled the Republican Party but my memories of Jack are fond. And Jack was the sort of man who kept me on his family’s Christmas card list no matter that the likes of Rush Limbaugh were calling me a traitor.
My last phone conversation with Jack was in 2000, ironically when Jack argued (loudly) with me over my support for John McCain in his presidential primary bid battle with George W. Bush. Jack called McCain a “war monger” and called Bush a “peacemaker.” Jack was rebuking me because I’d done a number of radio interviews at McCain’s campaign manager Mark Salter’s request, supporting McCain and blasting Bush. I was rooting for McCain because in his pre-Palin/Tea Party sellout McCain was correctly calling people like Falwell “agents of intolerance.”
By then (though he worked with the religious right closely earlier) Jack agreed with McCain on his harsh assessment of the religious right. There was no love lost between Jack and likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson et al though they did all use each other handily. Back in the early 1990s when I had just started writing about why I’d left the religious right, Jack called to commend me and said “the religious right will destroy the Republican Party.”
I never got the chance to ask Jack what he thought about his “peacemaker” taking us to war in Iraq for no reason. But it’s instructive that the last time I talked to Jack he was to my “left” (so to speak) over the issues of war and peace. Given that I then had a son in the Marine Corps I was pretty “hawkish” in those days. (I’ll bet Jack would have some choice words today for Romney more or less promising to go to war with Iran on Day One of his presidency.)
Jack and I were once close enough that in 1984 he helped me edit a book of pro-capitalist essays aimed at the evangelical public called Is Capitalism Christian? (Crossway Books, 1985). The 20 or so contributors included Emmett Tyrell (editor of the American Spectator), Warren Brookes (columnist for the Boston Herald), Michael Novak (author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism) and Paul Johnson (author of Modern Times).
Jack not only provided many personal introductions to these neoconservative leaders but he also provided this jacket copy endorsement: “I can think of only one thing better than reading Frank Schaeffer on Christianity and capitalism — that’s Frank Schaeffer bringing together most of the greatest thinkers of our time on the subject. Is Capitalism Christian? is an outstanding expression of the Judeo-Christian approach to economics.”
Jack shared Ryan’s disdain for taxes. But Jack’s “supply side” economic ideas were all about cutting taxes in a way that he sincerely believed would bring in more revenue to the Treasury (according to the low tax “Chicago school” theories) and thus help everyone — including the poor — by helping the federal government remain strong. Jack was not trying to make the super-rich even richer at the expense of the poor.
Jack was no right wing ideologue. He had a complex, sometimes contradictory, set of ideas. He was a champion for more immigration, the center of the American experience as he described it. So Jack argued for citizenship for immigrants here illegally. And he never would have allowed the good faith and credit of the US to languish worldwide to score points against a Democratic president. Ryan did this very thing by being the Tea Party’s front man behind the Republicans’ battles with President Obama, including last year’s congressional budget fiasco. That Ryan-driven fiasco brought the nation to the brink of default. And Ryan was also the politician who killed the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction proposal for purely political reasons.
While it was an honor to know Jack, I’m no longer proud of the book I worked on with him or my other gung-ho efforts to introduce evangelicals to neoconservative ideology. I’ve watched all of Jack’s pet economic theories (which I imbibed from Jack and others) tested and trounced by a reality far too intricate for any one ideology to correctly describe let alone “fix.”
But even back when I was spreading the “gospel” of Jack’s supply side ideas I was Christian first and a neoconservative/Religious Right ideologue second. So, there was one line I wouldn’t cross: endorsing Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand said: “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” Contrast that with the words of Jesus: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Jack was a fan of Rand in his younger days. But over the years and with some help from my father, he struggled to balance his one-time youthful fondness for Rand’s writings with his growing commitment to an evangelical Christian worldview. I recall Dad challenging Jack about his residual fondness for Rand. Dad — hardly a lefty and called one of the “fathers of the Religious Right” — described Rand as an “atheist extremist who hated the poor and despised Jesus.”
Nevertheless, Rand’s anti-tax ideas remained part of Jack’s DNA. Jack convinced the Reagan administration to lower income taxes drastically as a magical Randian “solution” to all that ailed America. The long term results speak for themselves: Our degraded infrastructure, the near bankruptcy of countless municipal governments and the super-rich getting richer as the middle class slides to lower middle class status. This is not the outcome for which Jack worked.
Even so, Jack’s tax-cutting ideas were mild compared to Ryan’s pro-billionaire “budget.” And Kemp never launched a slash and burn project that provided tax cuts for the rich while heaping tax burdens onto middle class families. Nor did he advocate eliminating the programs that keep the poor just this side of abject despair.
Mitt Romney has called Ryan’s plan “an excellent piece of work.” Who bears the burden of “excellent” plan? Jesus called them “the least of these.”
Ryan’s quotes about his passionate love of Rand’s ideas run throughout his entire career… until April 2012, that is. With his political star rising nationally via his Religious Right/Tea Party following, he has tried to reinvent himself for a national religious audience, by hastily delinking himself from Rand. “I reject her philosophy,” Ryan said when repeatedly pressed. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my [Roman Catholic] worldview.”
Ryan was trying to answer several leading evangelical critics — including the late Chuck Colson not to mention his own bishops, who blasted his budget as un-Christian. Colson even made a video attacking Ayn Rand, warning that her “patently anti-Christian ideas seem to be gaining steam.”
Colson believed Rand’s “followers” (i.e., Ryan et al) were undermining the Gospel and said: “It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that her worldview, called Objectivism, which rejects love of God, has even less regard for love of neighbor. Jennifer Rubin, who wrote the definitive biography of Rand, says that ‘whereas traditional conservatism emphasized duties, responsibilities, and social interconnectedness, at the core’ of Rand’s ideology ‘was a rejection of moral obligations to others.'”
Ryan knows that believing Christians can’t vote for him in good conscience unless he distances himself from Rand. Colson called those like Ryan following rand to account for “undermining the gospel.” But actions speak louder than words. Ryan’s budget would create a reality worthy of Rand’s most selfish libertarian fantasies. The poor will literally be ground under the heels of the rich like some Old Testament prophecy denouncing the wealthy come to life.
As for Romney, nothing could be farther from Rand’s ideas than the teachings of the Mormon Church on love of neighbor. The fact Romney nominated a committed Randian ideologue is as shocking as it was that McCain nominated Sarah Palin. Both men sold out to the “agents of intolerance.” In McCain’s case the sellout was to the Religious Right, in Romney’s case he sold out to both the Religious Right and to the Rand-following Tea Party.
The depth of the Romney sellout of his Mormon heritage is illustrated by any visit to Salt Lake City. There the visitor will find everything from church-financed food banks to employment offices extending an altruistic hand to the needy. Yet Romney has elevated Ryan, one who has proved with his budget that — recent, expedient disclaimers aside — he slavishly still follow his teacher who said, “suffering is not a claim check, and its relief is not the goal of existence — man is not a sacrificial animal on anyone’s altar nor for anyone’s cause” (The Objectivist, Sept. 1969, 13).
“Suffering is not a claim check”… on our obligation to love others? Tell that to the Good Samaritan or rather to Jesus who said that alleviating suffering is not only a claim check but the only ticket to redemption.
With Romney nominating the author of the most extreme Randian attack on the poor ever introduced in Congress, the Republican Party has just defined itself as the utilitarian party of greed and individualism run amok. The once proud party of Jack Kemp now stands for creating a libertarian country where no one is their brother’s keeper-unless you count the solicitous care the Koch brothers show for one another’s ever-expanding financial wellbeing.
In the context of a moralistic campaign wherein the Republicans have made such a point of their “Christian” values — and even accused President Obama of being “anti-religion” — maybe it’s fair to ask voters a question cast in the exclusionary terminology of today’s religious right: Can you be a real Christian or even a good American, if you vote for leaders whose plan for the poor is based on a blatant denial of Jesus’s teaching?
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and his forthcoming novel Baptism By Sand.