Paul Ryan proposes more compassionate, articulate GOP at award dinner honoring Marco Rubio

“Both parties tend to divide Americans into ‘our voters’ and ‘their voters,'” Ryan said. “But Republicans must steer far clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American.”

“I believe we can turn the engines of upward mobility back on, so that no one is left out from the promise of America,” he said.

Ryan said welfare reform in the 1990s reduced dependency and helped people “shape their own destiny.”

The problem now, Ryan said, is that instead of applying a similar model, “we’re still trying to measure compassion by how much we spend – not by how many people we help.”

That model is evidently not working, Ryan said, because “today, 46 million people are living in poverty.”

“We need a vision for bringing opportunity into every life – one that promotes strong families, secure livelihoods, and an equal chance for every American to fulfill their highest aspirations for themselves and their children.”

Unlike Rubio’s later speech, Ryan’s address was short on specific policies that would promote that vision. Instead, he sketched out general ideas and principles.

His vision, he said, “calls on government to encourage, not displace, the efforts of free people to help one another. It calls for a stronger safety net – one that protects the most vulnerable and promotes self-reliance. It calls for an end to the chronic inequalities in our education system. And finally, it promotes economic growth through free enterprise – because nothing has done more to lift people everywhere out of poverty.”

In pursuing this agenda, there has to be “a balance,” Ryan said, between the role of the private sector and the role of the government. Both, he said, are necessary and must work together.

At the end of his speech, Ryan addressed the impending fiscal cliff — a subject that most are more used to hearing the wonky House budget committee chairman talk about.

Ryan tied the country’s fiscal problems to the problems of struggling Americans.

“It’s not just the abuses of government that undermine civil society,” Ryan said. “It’s also the excesses. Look at the road we’re on – with trillion-dollar deficits every year. Debt on this scale is destructive in so many ways. And one of them is that it draws resources away from private charity.”

“Even worse is the prospect of a debt crisis – which will come unless we do something very soon,” he added. “When government’s finances collapse, the most vulnerable are the first victims, as we’re seeing right now in Europe. Many there feel they have nowhere to turn. And we must never let that happen in America.”

In the aftermath of the election, Ryan said, Republicans needed to break out of their slump and do their “duty to choose between ideas that work and those that don’t.”

“We must come together and advance new strategies for lifting people out of poverty,” he said.

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