Speaking at the one of the largest annual gatherings for social conservatives Friday, Paul Ryan's message was a punch to the gut: If you allow President Obama to be reelected, there’s no going back.
“If we renew the contract, we will get the same deal – with only one difference. In a second term, he will never answer to you again,” Congressman Ryan said at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., on Friday. “In so many ways, starting with Obamacare, reelecting this president would set in motion things that can never be called back. It would be a choice to give up so many other choices.”
Ryan’s speech – three parts critique of Mr. Obama’s record on issues of faith, foreign affairs, and finances and one part testimonial to presidential contender Mitt Romney’s character – was not just the usual stump speech. It was a pointed appeal to a key element of the GOP base that will have to turn out in force if the Romney-Ryan ticket is to prevail on Nov. 6.
Ryan, Mr. Romney’s vice presidential running mate and a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, spoke to a packed auditorium of some 2,000 attendees, plus a handful of hecklers. The summit is a conclave supported by leading Washington social conservative groups and organized by the Family Research Council.
Before Ryan took the stage, the crowd cheered mightily for declarations by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota that the Obama administration was soft on terrorists and by House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia that Republicans would “stand tall for traditional marriage.”
Ryan wrapped his critique of the Obama administration into one of his most well-received lines – an attack on Democrats for putting too much emphasis on the role of government in American life.
“On the seven occasions I’ve been sworn in as a member of Congress, I have never taken an oath to the government,” Ryan said into building applause. “The oath that all of us take is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, under which government is limited and the people are sovereign.”
That moment clicked for Mary Anne Krupa of Chicago. “He articulated what people in government work for and about so well,” said Ms. Krupa, who transcribed the line on a sheet of paper. “I understood why Romney picked him.”
Overall, Ryan was very well-received by the Values Voter crowd.
“He’s very sincere and real,” said Mary Carbone of Cranberry Township, Pa. “I don’t see in him a lot of the garbage I’ve seen in previous candidates.”
Ryan began his speech with a direct attack on Obama’s handling of recent foreign policy events.
“American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose. Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome,” Ryan said. “That is how we keep problems abroad from becoming crises. That is what keeps the peace. And that is what we will have in a Romney-Ryan administration.”
He also championed firmness of purpose from a Romney-Ryan administration on the economy.
“Everyone knows that President Obama inherited a bad economy. And four months from now, when Mitt Romney is sworn in as president, he will inherit a bad economy,” Ryan said. “But here’s the difference. When a Romney-Ryan administration takes office, we will also take responsibility. Instead of dividing up the wealth, our new president will get America creating wealth again.”
Ryan’s economic message resonated with Ted Meehan, a first-time attendee from West Chester, Pa. “I’m a small business owner,” said Mr. Meehan. “He understands what we’re up against, something that not everybody does.”
Ryan took on issues of faith and family. Citing his Roman Catholic faith, he held up the church’s legal battle against elements of the president’s health-care reform law, which some US Catholic organizations say forces them to provide birth control in their employee health-insurance plans.
“This mandate is not a threat and insult to one religious group – it is a threat and insult to every religious group,” Ryan said. “[Romney] and I are honored to stand with you – people of faith and concerned citizens – in defense of religious liberty.”
Not surpringly, some attendees thought the Republican Party has spent too little time discussing this aspect of Ryan’s critique.
"I think we are a little too reluctant to speak about" social issues, says Richard Lyon of Spring Grove, Pa.
Mr. Lyon said Republicans need to respond more strongly to Obama’s role in removing the policy that prevented gay Americans from serving openly in the military and to his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.
“If anything, we are responding to an onslaught on social values. And we should not let ourselves be cowered,” says Lyon. “There is, unfortunately, amongst the leaders, a cowering, in effect, because the mainstream media hounds us on that issue.”
But Paul Carbone of Cranberry Township, Pa., said he wasn’t much concerned about whether Romney and Ryan talked social issues or not. Like Ryan, he views the 2012 election as one that would fundamentally recast the country’s future in an irreversible way.
“If we don’t keep the freedom that was based upon the Founding Fathers, what happens is it doesn’t make any difference about the social issues,” said Mr. Carbone. “If you lose your freedom because you have an oppressive government, which is where this thing is headed, social issues don’t make any difference anymore because social issues will be dictated to you.”