House Speaker John Boehner speaks to religious broadcasters.
House Speaker John Boehner speaks to religious broadcasters. Mark Humphrey/AP
While "The King's Speech" got most of the attention on Oscar night, the Speaker's speech deserves some, too.
In his first speech outside Washington since assuming his powerful post in January, House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday night framed the fight against federal spending and higher taxes as a moral crusade.
It made sense for Boehner to couch efforts to rein in the federal deficits and the debt in that way since his speech was, after all, to a religious broadcasters meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
The speech was Boehner's attempt to strengthen the links between two parts of the conservative movement that often have different priorities — fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Boehner took the fiscal conservatives' message and grafted the language of religious conservatism to it.
Even among some in the Tea Party movement, there's been debate about how much of the new grassroots effort should be focused on economic versus social issues. According to Boehner, it's all about morality.
"Here we must speak the truth. Yes, this level of debt is unsustainable. It is also immoral.
"Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country. It is also a moral threat.
"It is immoral to bind our children to as leeching and destructive a force as debt. It is immoral to rob our children's future and make them beholden to China.
"No society is worthy that treats its children so shabbily.
"'A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children,' Proverbs reminds us. For too long, Washington has been ignoring this time-honored principle.
"As part of the designs of unrestrained government, Washington uses our people, our most plentiful resource, as its prime revenue source. Through more taxes and more regulations, money and freedom is drained from the people and transferred to Washington, which then redistributes these resources.
Later in the speech Boehner, as he has done in recent weeks, sought to place blame for any government shutdown that might occur if Republicans and Democrats don't agree on a stopgap spending bill before the Friday deadline, on the party that still controls the Senate and White House.
Again, he argued that morality was on the Republican side making no allowances that Democrats might see morality as being on their side.
"You know, it sometimes seems as if the architects of the strategy that government should never let a crisis go to waste now wait on a crisis to deal with waste. Even if that crisis includes shutting our government down.
"We know what their solution would look like, don't we? Spend more money, raise more taxes, impose more regulations, all in the name of another 'emergency.' I don't know about you, but that sounds to me like bringing us back full circle to the source of our troubles.
"Perhaps the activists of unrestrained government think there's some compromise to be had that allows their spending binge to survive.
"Ladies and gentlemen, know this: we will do no such thing. We have not come all this way to compromise on the will and the birthright of our people.
"We have a moral responsibility to address the problems we face. That means working together to cut spending and rein in government – not shutting it down.
Boehner also did some rhetorical jujitsu, redefining President Obama's reference to the present as a "Sputnik moment" in an entirely different way than Obama's meaning.
Obama has used the term to describe the need as he sees it for the U.S government to spend money in order to ensure that its workers can compete in a global economy. It's a wake-up call alike that early in the Cold War that kicked off the space race with the Soviets.
But Boehner recast the Sputnik moment in fiscal terms:
"You may recall President Obama, in his State of the Union address, talking about a 'Sputnik moment,' the moment that shocks our generation into getting serious.
"In my view, America's 'Sputnik moment' is our shocking national debt.
"Now surpassing $14.1 trillion, our national debt is on track to eclipse the size of our entire economy this year. In other words, we're broke. Broke, going on bankrupt. Just as a bankrupt business has trouble creating jobs, so does a bankrupt country.
"Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland – even France – face sovereign debt crises and social unrest. Much of our debt has been bought up by China and Japan.
Before the fiscal part of his speech, Boehner hit other themes sure to be popular with religious broadcasters.
For instance, he knocked regulators in general and the Federal Communications Commission in particular for its efforts to provide rules of the road for the Internet through the agency's controversial "net neutrality" initiative.
Boehner also criticized calls by some liberals to re-establish the "Fairness Doctrine" which conservative broadcasters particularly see as the government forcing them to carry liberal viewpoints on their stations.
"Now, you know the old saying: 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' Well in Washington, it's more like, 'if you can't beat 'em, tax 'em and regulate 'em.'
"So, some members of Congress and the federal bureaucracy are still trying to reinstate – and even expand – the Fairness Doctrine. To them, it's fair to silence ideas and voices they don't agree with, and use the tools of government to do it.
"No one should fear the battle of ideas — it's the lifeblood of our democracy. When it's alive and well, so is our country.