Tampa, Day the Fourth. I suspect that Joe Biden is feeling pretty awful this morning. For that matter, I’d wager Barack Obama has had better nights’ rest. Condi Rice’s speech was bad enough for the Democrats — it was serious, dignified, eloquent — but Paul Ryan hit it out of the park. They both must have watched Ryan’s speech. They both must have come away with an empty feeling in the pit of the stomach. And poor Joe has to debate Ryan in a little more than a month. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
Most convention speeches, most political speeches from any venue, share an uneasy kinship with the tautologous exhortations of Roderick Spode in The Code of the Woosters: “Nothing stands between us and our victory except defeat! Tomorrow is a new day! The future lies ahead!” And why not? Many people have the reaction of (as I recall) Cyril “Barmy” Fotheringay-Phipps: “You know, I’d never thought of that!” They like it when A = B and you can make the journey from premise to conclusion without leaving home.
Between us, there has been a fair amount of such thru-text at the 2012 Republican Convention, just as there will be next week at the Democratic jamboree. There were even a few hints of it in Paul Ryan’s speech.
A few, but not many. Ryan’s performance was a masterly specimen of the orator’s art. Start with the integument. Ryan’s delivery was close to flawless. He commands a reassuring serenity on stage. He doesn’t pace or jerk or flail. He stands relaxed, hands folded quietly on the podium, as he speaks with a friendly and intelligent clarity, almost as if he were talking with instead of to his audience. He never saws the air, but merely punctuates important points with a few simple, open-handed gestures.
He read the speech, but he knows how to make it seem ex tempore, almost confidential. His manner is open, confident, but somehow also humble. There is nothing swaggering, nothing of the braggart or narcissist about him. He seems impressed not by the sound of his own voice but by the facts and observations he shares with his listeners. He also exuded the physical grace of youth. His iPod playlist, unlike Mitt Romney’s, started with AC/DC and went to Zeppelin. The audience loved that.
Ryan’s obvious sincerity allows him to deliver devastating one-liners without seeming cruel:
President Obama is the kind of politician who puts promises on the record, and then calls that the record. But we are four years into this presidency. The issue is not the economy as Barack Obama inherited it, not the economy as he envisions it, but this economy as we are living it.
Ouch. But then came this:
College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.
That must have stung.