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Paul Ryan: ‘Saving the American Idea: Rejecting Fear, Envy and the Politics of Division’

10:12 AM, Oct 26, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
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House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan is delivering the following remarks at a speech today at the Heritage Foundation:  

Paul Ryan

We’re here today to explore the American Idea, and I can’t think of a better venue for this topic. The mission of the Heritage Foundation is to promote the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.

These are the principles that define the American Idea. And this mission has never been timelier, because these principles are very much under threat from policies here in Washington.

The American Idea belongs to all of us – inherited from our nation’s Founders, preserved by the countless sacrifices of our veterans, and advanced by visionary leaders, past and present.

What makes America exceptional – what gives life to the American Idea – is our dedication to the self-evident truth that we are all created equal, giving us equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And that means opportunity.

The perfection of our union, especially our commitment to equality of opportunity, has been a story of constant striving to live up to our Founding principles. This is what Abraham Lincoln meant when he said, “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”

This commitment to liberty and equality is something we take for granted during times of prosperity, when a growing economic pie gives all Americans the opportunity to pursue their dreams, to provide brighter futures for their kids, or maybe just to meet their families’ needs.

These are tough times. We know all too well that too many Americans are hurting today. And these hardships have reopened our longstanding national debate over what it means to be an exceptional nation. Have those periods of unprecedented prosperity in America’s past been the product of our Founding principles?

Or, as some would argue, have we made it this far only in spite of our outdated values? Are we still an exceptional nation? Should we even seek to be unique? Or should we become more like the rest of the world – more bureaucratic, less hopeful, and less free?

The American Idea is not tried in times of prosperity. Instead, it is tested when times are tough: when the pie is shrinking, when businesses are closing, and when workers are losing their jobs.

Those are the times when America’s commitment to equality of opportunity is called into question. That’s when the temptation to exploit fear and envy returns – when many in Washington use the politics of division to evade responsibility for their failures and to advance their own narrow political interests.

To my great disappointment, it appears that the politics of division are making a big comeback. Many Americans share my disappointment – especially those who were filled with great hope a few years ago, when then-Senator Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois.

Do you remember what he said? He said that what’s stopped us from meeting our nation’s greatest challenges is, quote, “the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.”

I couldn’t agree more.

And yet, nearly three years into his presidency, look at where we are now:

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