Rep. Paul Ryan—who may or may not have hinted at a presidential run on Fox’s Your World with Neil Cavuto yesterday evening—addressed the Alexander Hamilton Society last night, and spoke about the “choice” of American decline.
The congressman, who rarely delves into foreign policy issues, outlined his views on American exceptionalism, democracy promotion, and the national security implications of our deficit crisis. “I’m here to tell you that decline is not a certainty for America,” Ryan told the audience. Quoting Charles Krauthammer, he asserted that “Decline is a choice.”
Here are some of the highlights of the speech:
On American exceptionalism. “America’s ‘exceptionalism’ is just this—while most nations at most times have claimed their own history or culture to be exclusive, America’s foundations are not our own—they belong equally to every person everywhere. The truth that all human beings are created equal in their natural rights is the most “inclusive” social truth ever discovered as a foundation for a free society. ‘All’ means ‘all’! You can’t get more ‘inclusive’ than that!”
On American leadership. “A world without U.S. leadership will be a more chaotic place, a place where we have less influence, and a place where our citizens face more dangers and fewer opportunities. Take a moment and imagine a world led by China or by Russia.”
On the trade-off between our values and our interests.“According to some, we will never be able to resolve this tension, and we must occasionally suspend our principles in pursuit of our interests. I don’t see it that way. We have to be consistent and clear in the promotion of our principles, while recognizing that different situations will require different tools for achieving that end.”
On human rights. “Now, if you believe these rights are universal human rights, then that clearly forms the basis of your views on foreign policy. It leads you to reject moral relativism. It causes you to recoil at the idea of persistent moral indifference toward any nation that stifles and denies liberty, no matter how friendly and accommodating its rulers are to American interests. . . .
On the policy of appeasement. “We have a responsibility to speak boldly for those whose voices are denied by the jackbooted thugs of the tired tyrants of Syria and Iran.”
On promoting free market values abroad. “An expanding community of nations that shares our economic values as well as our political values would ensure a more prosperous world . . . a world with more opportunity for mutually beneficial trade … and a world with fewer economic disruptions caused by violent conflict.”
On China. “A liberalizing China is not only in the interests of the world, but also in China’s own best interest as it copes with the tremendous challenges it faces over the next couple of decades. Just as America faces an entitlement crisis driven in part by the aging of our population, China faces an even more severe demographic crisis driven by years of coercive population controls.”
On the choice of American decline. “Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen; a country whose devotion to free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty than any economic system ever designed; and a nation whose best days still lie ahead of us, if we make the necessary choices today.”
Paul’s speech wasn’t just a great introduction to his foreign policy views. It was also important because the congressman gave the national security argument for dealing with our deficit—a line of reasoning that needs to have a more prominent place in the debate.