Paul Ryan emphasizes private charity in poverty speech

Paul Ryan in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo)

In a speech before a partisan crowd at Cleveland State University on Wednesday, Rep. Paul Ryan pitched a private charity-based strategy for fighting poverty, saying that top-down, government anti-poverty programs have created a “debilitating culture of dependency wrecking families and communities.”

The Republican vice presidential nominee, standing onstage before a row of flags in the music building’s plush auditorium, said, “We’re still trying to measure compassion by how much government spends, not by how many people we help escape from poverty.”

He took aim at “special interests” that he said look out for their own well-being while blocking reforms to public schools. And he praised private charitable activity, citing one man in nearby Elyria who started a homeless shelter and then moved into it with his wife and child, staying seven years. 

“What’s really at work here is the spirit of the Lord,” Ryan said.

Cleveland State University is in the heart of the city, which is the anchor of the Democrat-friendly industrial strip of Ohio along Lake Erie. Ryan’s speech was an excursion into the other camp’s home turf – and an attempt, in speaking about poverty, to address an issue traditionally considered a focus of Democratic candidates.

The “Civil Society Speech,” as it was labeled on press passes, included a direct acknowledgment that Republicans have not been good at conveying their compassion for the poor and explaining their plans to help the disadvantaged.

“We don’t always do a good job of laying out that vision. Mitt Romney and I want to change that,” Ryan said.

Many of the invited guests were conservatives from Ohio churches. Ryan’s speech had little advance publicity on campus, and student journalists said they broke the news of the impending speech to music students in the music department just hours before Ryan showed up at their auditorium.

Before he spoke, Ryan met backstage in a roundtable with conservative antipoverty leaders, according to Bishop Marva Mitchell of the Dayton-based God’s Will Fellowship of Churches.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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