Leave it to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

While the president is talking Big Bird, binders and birth control, Ryan is delivering a serious and substantive speech at Cleveland University today. In remarks prepared for delivery, he addresses social mobility, opportunity and how conservative policies can help boost the poor up the social ladder. Amazingly with record poverty, the president during this entire campaign has not talked about this subject.President Obama has used the poor as a prop in his partisan attacks (“47 percent”), but never laid out a comprehensive agenda.

Ryan begins by telling the audience:

Even though so many barriers to equality have fallen, too many old inequities persist. Too many children, especially African-American and Hispanic children, are sent into mediocre schools and expected to perform with excellence. African-American and Hispanic children make up only 38 percent of the nation’s overall students, but they are 69 percent of the students in schools identified as lowest performing. That’s unacceptable. We owe every child a chance to succeed. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, we owe them ‘an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.’ Upward mobility is the central promise of life in America. But right now, America’s engines of upward mobility aren’t working the way they should.

He then lays out what we’ve tried and how it has failed. “We have to take a hard look at the approach government has been taking for the last five decades, and ask ourselves whether it’s working. With a few exceptions, government’s approach has been to spend lots of money on centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs. . . . The problem is, starting in the 1960s, this top-down approach created and perpetuated a debilitating culture of dependency, wrecking families and communities.”

Conservatives, Ryan argues, should redirect efforts away from Washington, D.C., and back to local communities.

The short of it is that there has to be a balance — allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do. There’s a vast middle ground between the government and the individual. Our families and our neighborhoods, the groups we join and our places of worship – this is where we live our lives. They shape our character, give our lives direction, and help make us a self-governing people.”) The Romney-Ryan administration, he explains, would “restore those parts of the welfare-reform law that have been undone or weakened. We will do this for the sake of millions of Americans who deserve to lead lives of dignity and freedom.

In addition:

We will also apply other lessons from welfare reform’s success. For example, many of the solutions that worked in the 1990s came from states such as my home state of Wisconsin, and leaders such as former Governor Tommy Thompson. President Clinton and the Congress recognized that it would be a good idea to give states more power to tailor welfare to the unique needs of their citizens.

Mitt Romney and I want to apply this idea to other anti-poverty programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps. The federal government would continue to provide the resources, but we would remove the endless federal mandates and restrictions that hamper state efforts to make these programs more effective. If the question is what’s best for low-income Ohioans, shouldn’t we let Ohioans make that call?

And he stressed the importance of school choice and education reform.

Ryan paid homage to his mentor, the late Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), who surely would be beaming if he would hear Ryan, in the last two weeks of a hotly contested campaign, give a thoughtful address on how conservative principles can help the poor. In contrast with the president’s ever-shrinking agenda, it is refreshing to have one ticket end a speech with this sort of exhortation: “Wherever we are in life, whether we are rich or poor, black, brown, or white, American by chance or by choice, we are one nation, rising or falling together. That is the promise of America, and we can make it real in the lives of the many who feel left out. To all of those Americans, I ask you to support our campaign, because our cause is yours, and yours is ours, and together we can achieve great things.”

Candidly, that sounds like Obama of 2008 — figuratively an eon away from Obama 2012.