The Ayn Rand disciple leading the House Budget Committee

THE AYN RAND DISCIPLE LEADING THE HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE…. In my circle of friends growing up, I can think of quite a few folks who, between the ages of 16 and 22, briefly fell under the spell of Ayn Rand. Someone loaned them a copy of Atlas Shrugged; they were convinced it was brilliant; and for a while, they were evangelists for the Randian cause.

Fortunately, this is just a phase some folks go through, and most of them feel embarrassed later.

Some, however, never really grow out of it. Take Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for example, who’ll become chairman of the House Budget Committee next month. Ryan, Christopher Beam notes in an interesting new article, “requires staffers to read Atlas Shrugged, describes Obama’s economic policies as ‘something right out of an Ayn Rand novel,’ and calls Rand ‘the reason I got involved in public service.'”

It prompted Jon Chait to flag a piece he wrote in March about Ryan and his borderline-creepy devotion to the philosophy of Rand.

Ryan would retain some bare-bones subsidies for the poorest, but the overwhelming thrust in every way is to liberate the lucky and successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens. This is the core of Ryan’s moral philosophy:

“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,” Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” …

At the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand’s writings when he told his audience that, “Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill … is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict — individualism versus collectivism.”

The core of the Randian worldview, as absorbed by the modern GOP, is a belief that the natural market distribution of income is inherently moral, and the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.

I mention this, not because I find it bizarre that the House Budget Committee chairman forces his aides to read bad fiction, but because there’s a larger takeaway about how the parties will get along in the next Congress — or in this case, won’t.

Talking to various aides on the Hill, I get the sense that Democrats tend to look at Paul Ryan as the kind of Republican they can at least talk to. Unlike so many GOP leaders, the far-right Wisconsinite appears to have read a book and learned how to use a calculator. When he speaks, Ryan tends to use complete sentences, and tends to resist at least some partisan bomb-throwing.

But there’s a catch: the guy is a crackpot. A polite crackpot who, by contemporary Republican standards, takes his beliefs seriously, but a crackpot nevertheless.

Ryan doesn’t want to search for common ground with Democrats; he’s hopelessly convinced that Democrats are radicals intent on destroying modern capitalism. He considers the very ideas of charity and sacrifice deeply offensive. His entire worldview is so bizarre, it has no meaningful place in the American mainstream.

Matt Yglesias recently noted that Ryan “is a dangerous madman,” and the description doesn’t seem especially hyperbolic.