Paul Ryan Is Your Annoying Libertarian Ex-Boyfriend

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Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/GettyImages

In the dating world, an infatuation with Ayn Rand is a red flag. You might not see it right away: Your date is probably conventionally attractive, decidedly wealthy, and doesn’t really talk politics. But then you get back to his apartment, set your bag down on his glass-topped coffee table, give his bookshelf the once-over — and find it lined with Ayn Rand.

You think back to your conversation at the bar: He treated flirtation like a conquest, a rationally self-interested sexual manifest destiny. He had some dumb pickup-artist questions and maybe a questionable accessory (a cravat? a fedora? a weird pinky ring?) but you overlooked these things, because he was quite charming.

But that dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged tells you everything you need to know. He sees himself as an objective iconoclast. He's unapologetically selfish, because it's only rational, he says. Sure, he grew up with money but he worked to get where he is today. He’s all about individual responsibility but he just isn’t, metaphorically, into wearing protection.

This is the part where you collect your shoes and bag and GTFO.

The Republican presidential ticket is giving me a similar feeling. Both GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his recently announced running mate, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, are what my grandma would call “good-lookin’ fellas.” Clean-cut and charming. They are billing themselves as the candidates with rational answers to America's emotionally fraught tangle of economic and social problems. (Social program too expensive? Gut it. People have to figure out how to make it on their own.) As GQ’s Marin Cogan points out, Romney has a tendency to mansplain — informing listeners, in great detail, about mundane things with which they are already familiar.

Ryan admits that Ayn Rand’s work was a foundation of his political beliefs. “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said in a speech to the Atlas Society in 2005. “And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” Ryan has since distanced himself from libertarianism, the equivalent of taking the Rand off the shelf, but retains the self-important attitude and disregard for policies based on collective good.

After all, Ryan was the originator of the Republican alternative to Obama’s 2012 budget. His policy proposals would have, in the name of curbing government spending, snipped several weight-bearing strands of the social safety net — as well as literally weight-bearing expenditures like the maintenance of bridges and roads. But like your Randian dinner date, Ryan's worldview is inconsistent: He voted for deficit-ballooning legislation like the Bush-era tax cuts, expansive military spending, and the banking- and auto-industry bailouts. And he’s all about individual rights until we start talking about your uterus — he's staunchly anti-choice. Extolling the importance of personal freedom while radically restricting a woman’s right to control her own body, Ryan's politics are your libertarian boyfriend problem, on a national scale.

President Obama maintains an advantage with female voters, enjoying a nine-point lead with women overall and a full twenty-point lead with those who are not mothers. Nonetheless, Romney has narrowed the gap over the last few months.

Romney's female gains are surprising. In my experience, women are less likely than men to be in total denial about the fact that some Americans are born with more cultural and financial advantage than others and that government should have some programs that seek to lessen the disparity. It’s not because women are less logical or rational, two descriptors often applied to Ryan’s “small government” approach; it’s because women are more likely to hold minimum-wage jobs. We make less money. So we’re more likely to rely on programs like food stamps and Medicare. And, unsurprisingly, we’re more likely to support legislation that stems from a collective-good worldview, such as the Affordable Care Act. The Ryan agenda of going all Edward Scissorhands on the social safety net would hit women especially hard.

Like the stealth-libertarian date, Ryan has managed to set himself up as an underdog, a savvy and “courageous” hero railing against the status quo, even though his policy proposals would hasten our trip down the path we’re already on, creating even greater inequality. He might look cute from across the bar, but we already know what’s on his bookshelf at home. And guys like him never get a second date.