Last weekend the Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservative activists, took place in Washington DC. Hosted by the Family Research Council, the conference featured speeches from Senator Rand Paul, House Leader Eric Cantor and, most notably, Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and focused on combating threats to First Amendment rights as well as ways to encourage political engagement amongst religious groups.
One of the main topics discussed at the conference was the potential threat to religious liberty from the Affordable Care Act – in particular the HHS mandate stipulating that all employer health plans must include procedures and treatments viewed by many Americans as deeply unethical, with only a narrow provision for conscientious objection. Senator Ted Cruz decried the Act as an ‘abuse of federal power’, while Paul Ryan observed that the mandate would greatly impede the efforts of one of America’s largest and most hardworking providers of social and medical care, the Catholic Church – making it a textbook case of the deeply illiberal consequences of big-state ‘liberalism’.
Also discussed was the Democrat accusation that the American right is waging a ‘War on Women’ – rhetoric, as Congressman Michelle Bachmann put it, with ‘as much reliability and truthfulness as Bill Clinton’s arithmetic.’ But it was Lila Rose, the 24-year-old president of Live Action, who gave the fiercest rebuttal to the ‘War on Women’ bogeyman. The true assault on women’s liberty, she argued, came from a President who has rejected the idea of legislation to protect preborn females from sex-selective abortion, and an administration that forces pro-life American women to be complicit, through taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood (the largest abortion provider in the US), in procedures they consider gravely unjust.
The highlight of the conference, however, was undoubtedly Paul Ryan’s speech. The Vice Presidential nominee promised that a Romney-Ryan administration would be condicive to free enterprise – ‘creating wealth rather than dividing it up,’ in his words – and criticised Obama’s view of the state as the ultimate benefactor, something with near-limitless claim on our labours and our loyalty: the oath he swore when he took political office, Ryan reminded the audience, was not to the government but to the Constitution, and thus to the American people. It was a speech with both intellectual rigour and popular appeal, demonstrating Ryan’s ability to energise a crowd while never drifting into hyperbole or populism. Though Romney is by no means a particularly inspiring candidate, such appearances by Ryan repudiate the idea that the Republican ticket will simply be this November’s ‘least worst option’.
Some may wonder what relevance a social conservative event has in an election that is (rightly) being fought on economics. The answer, I suggest, can be found in this diagram:
All those concerned about US national debt – approaching $16 trillion at the time of writing – should know that this is where the money is going: into places where communities, churches and charities should already be. Family breakdown and declining civic engagement necessitates government expansion funded by a fiat money system, and thus the renewal of social institutions and the empowerment of individuals as moral agents will be instrumental in curing the country’s addiction to paper money and debt. But until that happens, the United States will continue down the path to becoming a place where, as Paul Ryan so aptly put it, ‘everything is free – but you.’
Megan Moore is currently interning at the Leadership Institute in Washington DC as part of the YBF internship programme.