Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States, received a warm reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, speaking on the budget in communitarian and traditionalist tones that may reflect a shift in wider Republican messaging. And he phrased it in terms that will surprise many. Why? Because according to Ryan, the duty of government is to secure individual rights and protect diversity.
“We belong to one nation, but we also belong to thousands of communities, each of them rich in tradition,” Ryan said. “So the duty of government isn’t to displace these communities, but to support them. It isn’t to blunt their differences, or to flatten their character, or to mash them together in some dull confirmity. It is to secure our individual rights and to protect that diversity.”
Ryan, entering to strains of hard rock, greeted the crowd with enthusiastic waving. “We all need a break from the mess in Washington,” he said,”and I just gotta say, it is nice to be in a room full of conservatives for a change.”
Ryan began his speech with criticism of the recently released Democratic budget plan, likening it to the announcement of the election of Pope Francis.
“We got white smoke from the Vatican, and we got a budget from the Senate,” Ryan said. ”When you read it, you find that the Vatican’s not the only place blowing smoke this week.”
Ryan’s first target was the budget’s name, the “Foundation for Growth: Restoring the Promise of American Opportunity.”
“I feel like saluting already,” Ryan quipped. He then shifted to attacking the budget’s merits.
“They call their budget a balanced approach,” Ryan said. “The thing is, they never balance the budget ever. In fact, they call for another trillion dollar plus tax hike on top of even more spending. If we did nothing, meaning, not pass their budget, the government would save money.”
However, Ryan’s speech was hardly all offensive. He spent the rest of the speech defending the House budget, which he authored, explaining that his insistence on a balanced budget was far more than an abstract exercise in mathematical finesse.
“Today, I want to make the case for balance. That case, in essence, is that a balanced budget will promote a healthy economy. It will create jobs, and nothing is more important than that,” Ryan said. “We need to make this point more often: We don’t see the debt as an excuse to cut with abandon, to shirk our obligations. We see it as an opportunity to make it leaner and more effective.”
Ryan then delved into the governing philosophy underlying his budget. “We need to make this point more often: We don’t see the debt as an excuse to cut with abandon, to shirk our obligations. We see it as an opportunity to make it leaner and more effective…A balanced budget is a reasonable goal because it returns government to its proper limits and focus,” Ryan argued. “We need to make room for community, for that vast middle ground between the government and the individual. We need to remember that people don’t find happiness in grim isolation or by government fiat. They find it through friendship, through free, vibrant exchange with people around them. They find it in achievement. They find it in their families, their neighborhoods.”
This, according to Ryan, was the essence of conservatism – the aforementioned respect for the diversity of various American communities, tempered by a government functional enough to avoid anarchy.
“We can’t just talk about these communities. We have to talk with them. We have to engage them, because leaders don’t just speak up, they listen, too,” Ryan said. ”Government must function because chaos is fertile soil for liberalism. ”
Finally, he offered a contrast between the Democrats and Republicans that is sure to spark fury on the Left. “They are the party of shared hardship. We are the party of equal opportunity,” Ryan said.
You can watch Ryan’s speech below: