GOP Focuses on Job Creation, Strong Families

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 balanced 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 before the convention.

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, a Catholic, 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 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."


Democrats Vow to Defend Middle Class, Contraception

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Economic security for the middle class and access to free contraception as an essential part of women’s health care were major issues that dominated speeches and conversations at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

"Yes, our path is harder — but it leads to a better place," said President Barack Obama in a Sept. 6 address as he accepted his party’s nomination for re-election.

Obama outlined an ambitious agenda for his second term, pledging to "create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years," improve and expand access to education, expand clean-energy options, bolster national security and "reduce" the national deficit "without wrecking our middle class."

That visionary agenda, he suggested, was threatened by policies advanced by his Republican opponents, "Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry or control health-care choices that women should make for themselves."

Each speaker, from first lady Michelle Obama to former President Bill Clinton, made the case for the president’s re-election. They asserted that he had successfully reversed the economic crisis and was now laying the foundation for a more equitable system that provided opportunity for all, not just the wealthy.

In her Sept. 4 speech, Mrs. Obama told Americans: "We can trust Barack to do what he says he’s going to do, even when it’s hard." She said that her husband "doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican or none of the above," and, instead, he is "always looking for the very best in everyone he meets."

President Clinton fired up the crowd on Sept. 5 with a 48-minute speech that described President Obama as a competent leader whose efforts to revive a devastated economy have been hampered by Republicans’ unwillingness to cooperate.

"No president — not me; not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years," Clinton said, adding that the current president has created millions of jobs and is "still committed to constructive cooperation."

Vice President Joe Biden preceded Obama’s address, offering a speech that praised his running mate’s courageous decisions to order the attack that killed Osama bin Laden and bail out the American automobile industry.

"We now find ourselves at the hinge of history. And the direction we turn is in your hands," said Biden. "The journey of hope is not yet finished, but we are on our way."

Women’s health care was among the most prominent topics at the convention, particularly the controversial Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers to offer co-pay-free birth control to employees in their health-care plans.

The mandate has drawn criticism from the U.S. bishops and other faith leaders who say it poses an unprecedented threat to the free exercise of church-affiliated institutions.

However, the mandate was praised by numerous abortion-rights advocates who used their prime-time speaking slots to attack Republican efforts to provide conscience protections and bar federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, charged: "We cannot trust Mitt Romney to respect our rights."

"He would overturn Roe v. Wade and sign into law a wave of outrageous restrictions on a woman’s ability to make decisions about her pregnancy," she said.

Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, cautioned against "politicians who want to end access to birth control" and said that Romney is trying to "turn the clock back on a century of progress."

Romney and Ryan "are committed to ending insurance coverage for birth control" and want to "turn women’s health-care decisions over to our bosses," she claimed.

The Democratic platform also came under scrutiny during the convention for removing the single reference to God. The statement called for a government that gives "everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."

After the reference to God was removed, a furor ensued, with the blogosphere lighting up with arguments on both sides. Ultimately, after three ambiguous voice votes, the reference to God was reinserted into the platform.

In addition, the party’s platform garnered attention for its unprecedented support for the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions.

Among the most notable Catholic voices at the convention was Sister Simone Campbell, who heads the social-justice lobby Network and led the "Nuns on the Bus" tour to protest Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposal. Sister Simone criticized Republicans for failing to acknowledge the shared responsibility of Americans to care for their neighbors by securing funds for federal social programs. She applauded the president’s economic, health care and Medicaid policies. "This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do," she said.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops, offered the final benediction to conclude the convention.

He prayed for the nation’s leaders and for all Americans, as well as for immigrants, the poor and those struggling to find work.

"Renew in all of our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first, most cherished freedom," he added.

The cardinal, who also offered the closing benediction at the Republican National Convention, prayed for "those yet to be born" and for a respect for "the laws of nature and nature’s God."

Michelle Bauman is a

Washington, D.C., bureau

staff writer for CNA.