Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) blasted progressive principles as "arrogant and condescending" Wednesday night in a speech outlining his vision on how to sell modern-day conservatism to voters.
Ryan laced his blistering critique with caveats, saying progressives were not evil, but merely misguided in pursuit of the shared goal of American exceptionalism. He also acknowledged the appeal of the liberal message and the success Democrats have had in peddling their vision to voters.
“This vision proved compelling,” Ryan said. “It drew thousands of people into government … they seized the moral high ground. They said they were the heirs of the Founders, when in reality, they were the replacements. They said they were for the people. And their opponents? They were for the rich. They were selfish.”
“Yet the Left keeps winning elections,” Ryan continued. “Why? Well, you can see the appeal. In uncertain times, people look for security. Progressives seem to have an answer … the progressive state offers a sense of security. But it’s a false sense of security because government can’t keep all its promises.”
Republicans have focused recently on crafting a more appealing political message, most notably in relation to minority voters. Some in the GOP have also acknowledged the need to soften the party’s economic message, arguing that it’s easier for President Obama and Democrats to sell a message about government benefits than it is for Republicans to sell a vision of personal responsibility.
“This vision is our response to progressivism,” Ryan said. “It’s not as easy to sell. But it is more complete and much more real. We have to show how it works.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) made a similar argument in a speech to the Ripon Society on Tuesday, arguing that Republicans had allowed themselves to be defined as the deficit-reduction and cost-cutting party.
Ryan on Wednesday said Republicans could stick to their message of fiscal conservatism, but needed to expand their cultural message.
“We have to stop spending money we don’t have,” he said.
“That’s our policy. But that’s not our purpose … We have failed to communicate this vision to those who have never heard of it. We’ve retreated to our cultural cul-de-sacs in an effort to protect our immediate surroundings. Meanwhile, our inner cities, our barrios, and our poor rural communities have languished. This is where our opportunity lies. This is where we must go. This is where we must demonstrate our full vision of freedom and community.”
“In short, we have to show the full scope of our vision,” he added. “We have to explain that conservatism is about more than the economy. It’s also about our culture. It’s about the kind of country we want to be. It’s about the kind of life we want to share.”
Ryan argued that the progressive view trades the “natural rights” of citizens for “government-granted rights,” which has weakened individual attachment to family and community while strengthening dependence on the government, he said.
“Yes, the federal government has a role to play, but it’s a supporting role, not the leading one. Its job is to give people the resources and the space to thrive.”
Ryan also expressed disdain for the partisan conflicts that have gripped Washington in recent years.
“We can’t treat politics like a game,” he said. “We aren’t competing for a trophy. We’re competing over the country’s future. We’re trying to determine what kind of people we will be. We have to recognize the stakes. We have to get serious.”