TAMPA, Fla. — The need to work towards a stronger economy and healthy families pervaded the political discussions at the 2012 Republican National Convention, which culminated with Mitt Romney accepting the party’s nomination for president.

“Today the time has come for us to put the disappointments of the last four years behind us,” Romney said in his Aug. 30 acceptance speech. “Now is the time to restore the promise of America.”

Romney outlined a five-point plan to strengthen the middle class and create 12 million new jobs for Americans. The plan includes moving towards energy independence for North America; creating and enforcing new trade agreements; cutting the deficit and moving towards a balance budget; and championing small businesses through reduced taxes and regulations.

The Republican presidential candidate stressed the importance of strong families and communities in American life, and his plan featured a proposal to expand school choice for parents.

“We look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and bad,” he said.

The former Massachusetts governor reached out to Americans who have failed to see their prospects improve under President Barack Obama’s leadership.

“You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him,” he said.

With Hurricane Isaac brushing across the edge of Florida shortly before the convention was scheduled to start, organizers decided to condense the event from four days into three.

However, the storm did not prevent tens of thousands of Americans from pouring into Tampa, Fla., to see leading Republican politicians outline their vision of the party’s future.

The final night of the convention included appearances by 13 U.S. Olympians and remarks by “mystery guest” Clint Eastwood, who drew laughs from the audience by holding a mock conversation with an imaginary Obama.

The struggling economy dominated much of the discussion at the convention. Speakers reminded the television audience that 23 million Americans are currently unemployed or underemployed and that nearly one in six are living in poverty.

A national debt clock was featured prominently in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the convention was held, counting up the federal debt as it approached $16 trillion.

Speakers recalled the president’s pledge in 2008 to create jobs and draw down the national deficit and asserted that he had utterly failed to fulfill his campaign promise. Numerous small business owners were called to the stage to tell their stories and voice support for Romney’s policies.

The convention offered a chance for voters to become better acquainted with the GOP candidates, particularly Catholic Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who was announced as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick less than three weeks ago.

Ryan spoke about living in Janesville, Wis., where he still resides on the same block where he grew up. Even as a teenager, “waiting tables, washing dishes or mowing lawns for money,” he was sustained by a firm belief in the American dream. He also mentioned he still attends the same parish where he was baptized.

The congressman gained national attention last spring when he proposed a federal budget that drew both praise for its fiscal responsibility and criticism for cutting programs that aid the poor and vulnerable. He has argued that the poor will be best served by cutting the federal debt, containing the growth of social entitlements to secure their survival, and implementing local programs rather than social programs managed in Washington.

Ryan’s proposed reform of Medicare has drawn attacks from critics who charge that seniors will suffer during his plan. During his Tampa address, Ryan sought to tamp down such concerns, pledging that Medicare would be protected and strengthened and repeating his charge that the Obama administration had weakened Medicare by funneling more than $700 billion out of Medicare to help pay for the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

In his speech, Ryan acknowledged the responsibility “of the strong to protect the weak,” but also said that the United States has an obligation to “stop spending money we don’t have.”

“The choice is whether to put hard limits on economic growth or hard limits on the size of government, and we choose to limit government,” he said.

Ryan used his airtime at the convention to deepen the public’s understanding and appreciation for his running mate, whose self-deprecating style and Mormon faith have stirred questions about his character and values. Commenting on Romney’s faith, Ryan said that while the two men hail from different religious traditions, their beliefs “come together in the same moral creed.”

Romney’s wife, Ann, also drew a compelling portrait of her husband as a committed spouse and father, who supported her during tough times, including her present struggle with multiple sclerosis. She recalled how she fell in love with Romney after their first meeting at a high-school dance and defended him as a successful businessman and public servant who should be celebrated, not attacked, for his achievements.

Several speakers from Romney’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ community also shared their experiences with him as an unpaid lay pastor.

Other speakers recounted how Romney had led by example, challenged those around him to give more, and encouraged volunteering when he was governor of Massachusetts, a position he served without taking a salary.

The emphasis on faith and family embraced the candidates’ personal lives as well as key principles affirmed in the Republican Party platform, and speakers highlighted the central role of the family in American society.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio noted that the people of the United States are bonded not by race, religion or ethnicity, but by “common values,” such as the understanding that “family is the most important institution in society” and that “almighty God is the source of all we have.”

“Our national motto is ‘In God We Trust,’ reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all,” said Rubio.

In an impassioned address, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who competed against Romney during a grueling primary season, called for an end to the “assault on marriage and the family.” Santorum said that when Americans do not succeed, it is often “because the family that should be there to guide them and serve as the first rung on the ladder of success isn’t there or is badly broken.” He spoke about the need to protect all human life as well, including his daughter Bella.

The 2012 Republican platform, which was officially adopted at the convention, featured strong statements supporting the sanctity of life, the defense of marriage and the importance of religious liberty.

“We pledge to respect the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard the independence of their institutions from government,” the platform stated.

Ryan’s address offered a blunt assessment of the Obama administration’s record on religious freedom, with an indirect reference to the federal mandate that requires all private employers, including church-affiliated institutions, to provide co-pay-free contraception and abortion drugs. In the wake of such policies, he suggested, “everything is free but us.”

Romney, for his part, vowed to “protect the sanctity of life. I will honor the institution of marriage. And I will guarantee America’s first liberty: the freedom of religion.”

The convention concluded with a final blessing delivered by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Dolan, who will also give the concluding benediction at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, N.C., prayed that God would bless the United States with a renewed respect for life, religious liberty and “righteous living,” as well as for the needs of the poor and suffering.

“May we strive to include your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” he said, “in the production and prosperity of a people so richly blessed.”


Michelle Bauman is a Washington, D.C., bureau staff writer for Catholic News Agency.