Dispatches from CPAC

Paul Ryan's Zen Approach to Balancing the Budget

03.15.13 3:29 PM ET

John Adkisson/Getty Images

Paul Ryan was the rock star of CPAC.

A meet and greet opportunity for conservatives to take a picture with the 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee Thursday created lines that snaked back and forth through the corridors of the of the Gaylord National Resort and Hotel and they were even more eager to hear him speak. When Ryan came onto the stage Friday morning at 9:40, the main ballroom of the conference was packed with conservatives who treated the Wisconsin congressman to a hearty welcome.

They were shouting, cheering and eager for him to talk. And then, as Ryan began to talk about the budget, there weren’t many cheers again until he finished speaking 15 minutes later.

Instead of the red meat that CPAC audience was used to, Ryan used his time to be a budget scold and preach his austere financial philosophy. For him, balancing the budget was a moral imperative. As he preached to the crowd, “The crucial question isn’t how we balance the budget, it’s why we balance the budget. The budget is a means to the end. We’re not balancing budget as an accounting exercise and make the numbers add up.”

He seemed to almost take a zen approach: balancing the budget was important for a balanced society. It disrupted a world where government stuck to its “proper limits and focus” and instead, people find a “healthy mix of self-fulfillment and belonging ... in thousands of communities” across the country.

At the end of the speech, the crowd cheered again for their rock star but it felt somehow obligatory. He hadn’t connected with the crowd. Like rock stars of the past, it felt like Ryan was on a spiritual journey that not everyone could follow. Only this time, his guru was Milton Friedman, instead of the Maharashi.