TAMPA, Fla. — “Our different faiths come together in the same moral creed,” Paul Ryan said in his acceptance speech as Republican vice-presidential nominee in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 29. Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman who is House Budget Committee chairman, is a Catholic well-versed in Catholic social teaching, having engaged in public conversation on these grounds, most famously in a letter exchange with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In carving out the common values he and Mitt Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, share, Ryan was underscoring a key message of the Republican convention and presidential ticket. The “Believe” of the Romney campaign is a departure from the first Obama campaign’s “we are the ones we have been waiting for”; instead of a “hope and change” focused on self, it’s a liberation to truly believe in a greater hope than any one president or vote or person. It’s a vote to renew age-old values that sustain family life and the most fundamental liberty, religious liberty, as goods for our national life.
The creed of which he speaks has its roots in almighty God, of course. Rather than a public theological seminar, though, Ryan, along with Romney, speaks to an understanding of ordered liberty in which freedom is to be protected as a gift from God and religious freedom in a particular way. Throughout the week, both candidates and surrogates spoke to the primacy of this freedom and its Divine source.
“Mitt and I also go to different churches,” Ryan said. “But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example,” he added. “And I’ve been watching that example. The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he’s a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country.”
“We believe that in every life there is goodness; for every person, there is hope,” Ryan said. “Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life.”
If elected, Romney and Ryan would be sworn into office just days before the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision.
Ryan emphasized our moral obligation to the most defenseless: “We have responsibilities, one to another — we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.”
Ryan’s speech reached a crescendo when he said: “The founding generation secured those rights for us, and in every generation since, the best among us have defended our freedoms. They are protecting us right now. We honor them and all our veterans, and we thank them.”
“The right that makes all the difference now is the right to choose our own leaders. And you are entitled to the clearest possible choice, because the time for choosing is drawing near.”
In providing contrast between the two presidential tickets, the Republican presidential candidate sought to speak not just to those already inclined to vote for him, but those who voted for Barack Obama four years ago: “I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president,” Romney said the following night. He spoke about the optimistic, immigrant spirit of America. “We are a nation of immigrants. We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life; the driven ones, the ones who woke up at night hearing that voice telling them that life in that place called America could be better.”
“They came not just in pursuit of the riches of this world, but for the richness of this life,” Romney said. Those included: religious freedom, free speech and politics that would support family life and entrepreneurism.
In his Romney nominating speech, freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida hit on this immigrant theme with an even sharper contrast with Obama. He warned of the current administration's advocacy of “ideas that people come to America to get away from … that threaten to make America more like the rest of the world, instead of helping the world become more like America,” focusing on government policies increasing dependence on the federal government, instead of freeing people from the crippling nature of regulation.
The Obama administration’s current posture toward religious liberty, whereby it is seeking merely to accommodate it, and as mere “freedom of worship,” represents a radical departure from these common values immigrants to this nation have long sought, often escaping theirs.
In an exclusive interview with National Review Online, Cardinal Timothy Dolan told me that he was pleased to hear some of these themes while he was backstage waiting to lead the convention in closing prayer, at the invitation of the Romney campaign.
“I heard a lot of themes that certainly resonated with me as an American, as a Catholic, particularly their nod to freedom of choice in education, freedom of religion, the sanctity of life, a concern for helping the economy — which is the best way to help the poor, who are always a concern for us.” He was appreciative to both Rubio and Romney for acknowledging the importance of immigration to the United States. “I was happy to hear Senator Rubio; I was very moved by his talk,” Cardinal Dolan told me. “His is the immigrant story. That, too, is very close to the heart of Catholics in America.”
Other speakers throughout the condensed three-day convention (on account of Hurricane Isaac, which threatened to hit Tampa), including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, spoke specifically of religious freedom. And in the former Baptist preacher’s remarks, there may have been some political healing.
Back when they were both running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, in a comment and a commercial, Huckabee seemed to use Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith against him. But Huckabee was unapologetic in his defense of his advocacy of Romney and welcoming him as a man of religious faith.
About the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services abortion-inducing drug, sterilization, contraception mandate, Huckabee said: “This isn’t a battle about contraceptives and Catholics, but of conscience and the Creator.”
“The attack on my Catholic brothers and sisters is an attack on me,” he continued.
The HHS mandate is expected to be heralded in primetime by Democratic surrogates, including Georgetown Law activist and “reproductive rights” rock star Sandra Fluke and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.
The vast majority of the primetime speeches at the Republican Party assembly were not made to rally the base, but left a door open for those who may share some of the values and sentiments expressed, perhaps most especially disappointment. Some were designed to provide better biographical introduction to Mitt Romney and his family, including to people in the room, who heard compelling, emotional testimony of his service as a lay bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The talk of the convention, the surprise appearance of Clint Eastwood in an ad-libbed comedy routine of sorts, was definitely aimed more at an independent or disappointed Obama voter than anyone in the Republican convention room (though, from my view on the floor, it appeared to be largely warmly received there).
The challenge Romney and Ryan face in the remaining weeks before Election Day is to continue to demonstrate the relative spirit of optimism that permeated the convention week in Tampa on the campaign trail, including in commercials and debates, while making clear contrasts.
As for Catholics and Cardinal Dolan’s prayerful presence, providing the closing prayer at both conventions, he tells me: “Please don’t be confused. Please know that simply to pray with somebody, simply to have a meal with somebody, simply to be friendly to somebody doesn’t mean that we are endorsing them or agreeing with them.”
It seems hard to be confused when the Archdiocese of New York, which the cardinal shepherds, is suing the president’s administration over the HHS mandate, a policy that includes mandatory coverage and participation in the intrinsic evil of abortion. Applying the prayerful test the cardinal applies to decisions like whether or not to pray at the conventions is an aid to the discerning voter: “My prayer is very pragmatic. I have one single thing in mind, and that is: the honor and glory of God, the service of Jesus in his Church, the salvation of souls. Everything I do, I ask: Is this or is this not going to advance the Kingdom? Is this or is this not going to bring people closer to God? Is this or is this not going to serve the cause of Jesus in his Church? That’s my only drive. And that’s the only rule that I have in trying to make these decisions.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
She blogs at K-Lo at Large at Patheos.com.