Issues of abortion, poverty, and the role of government took center stage when Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan spoke to the Values Voter Summit, a gathering of social conservatives in Washington, on Friday.
Even the Wisconsin congressman's usual stump speech, which focuses on economics and what he refers to as failed Obama administration policies such as Obamacare and the nearly $1 tillion economic spending package, was presented in moral terms.
"After four years of economic stewardship under these self-proclaimed advocates of the poor, and what do they have to show for it?" Ryan asked. "More people in poverty and less upward mobility wherever you look. After four years of dividing people up with the bogus rhetoric of class warfare, just about every segment of society is worse off."
But the majority of his remarks discussed the role of religion in American society.
"I am a Catholic, not because anyone has ordered me to accept a creed, but because of the grace and truth revealed in my faith, and that's how we all feel about the faiths we hold," he said. "In the same way, we Americans give ourselves to every kind of good cause. We do so for the simple reason that our hearts and conscience have called us to work that needs doing, to fill a place that sometimes no one else can fill."
Ryan said the Obama administration preferred to have government dictate values and hold a role in nearly every aspect of American life.
"The whole life of this nation is carried forward every day by the endless unselfish things people do for one another, without even giving it much thought," he said. "In books, they call this civil society. In my own experience, I know it as Janesville, Wis.--a place, like 10,000 others, where a lot of good happens without government commanding it, directing it, or claiming credit for it."
Ryan specifically cited the example of rules issued earlier this year as part of Obamacare that would have eliminated religious organizations' ability to offer insurance to employees that did not cover contraception costs.
"When government enters the picture, private institutions are so often brushed aside with suspicion or even contempt," he said. "This is what happened to the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities this past January, when the new mandates of Obamacare started coming. Never mind your own conscience, they were basically told; from now on you're going to do things the government's way."
Ryan noted the large role Catholic Charities plays in providing care to the underprivileged, particularly to women and their babies.
Obama's refrain that Americans are "all in this together" sounds hollow "coming from a politician who has never once lifted a hand to defend the most helpless and innocent of all human beings, the child waiting to be born," Ryan said.
He also said that while President Clinton-led Democrats sought to make abortions "safe, legal, and rare," Obama stands for "an absolute, unqualified right to abortion--at any time, under any circumstances, and even at taxpayer expense."
"We don't write anyone off in America, especially those without a voice. Every child has a place and purpose in this world," Ryan said. "Everyone counts, and in a just society the law should stand on the side of life."
Ryan ended by selling his top-of-the-ticket partner to the crowd.
"I'm not the only one who has told Mitt that maybe he needs to talk more about himself and his life," Ryan said. "It wouldn't hurt if voters knew more of those little things that reveal a man's heart and his character. He's one of those guys who doesn't just exhort and oversee good works, but shows up and does the work."
The Obama campaign released a statement reacting to Ryan's remarks, highlighting that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Ryan's budget proposal, which calls for severe cuts to domestic spending, failed a "basic moral test."
"Speaking at a values summit, he unleashed a series of over-the-top, dishonest attacks against the president that once again reminded voters that he's just not ready for prime time," said Danny Kanner, an Obama campaign spokesman, in an E-mail to reporters. "In the not too distant past, Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan said they wanted a serious debate on substantive issues. We're still waiting."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.