But Ryan’s speech was such an invigorating, wild triumph not only because it was supremely well delivered and contained a number of amusing rhetorical hand grenades. Ultimately, it was a triumph because it clearly retailed some of the key failures of the Obama administration while also outlining what a Romney-Ryan administration would do to remedy those failures. It was masterly in substance as well as performance.
There were three overriding themes: spending, growth, and responsibility. We need a lot less of the first and more of the second two. In 2008, Barack Obama came to office in the midst of a fiscal emergency. He lost no time in blaming George W. Bush for the mess that he inherited, and there is no doubt (as Ryan quietly acknowledged) that Bush’s profligate spending exacerbated the crisis. But when it comes to government spending, Obama makes Bush look like a piker. Remember: he has added $5 trillion to the federal debt in less than four years. That $800 and something billion “stimulus” — where did that go? What do we have to show for that? It was not only spent and wasted, Ryan reminded us, it was borrowed, spent, and wasted.
Blaming other people for one’s own failures is an unattractive habit. It’s one that is deeply ingrained in President Obama. If his poor performance is not George Bush’s fault, it is Congress’s fault, or Europe’s fault — anyone’s but his own. He promised that by this time he would have cut the deficit in half. He hasn’t. He said that, just give him the stimulus, and unemployment would be at 5.6 percent. We gave him the money; unemployment is 8.3 percent (that’s 23 million people out of work). On Obama’s watch, the credit rating of the United States was downgraded for the first time in history.
These and other failures are the result not of bad luck but of bad policies. The Obama administration, Ryan said in one of the evening’s two or three best lines, was like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.
Last time around, Barack Obama campaigned on his own charisma and his opponents’ failures. He’s trying it again but the charisma has worn and the failures are now his own. Obama assumed office nearly four years, Paul Ryan observed. Isn’t it time he assumed responsibility?
It’s a question millions of voters will be asking themselves. Neither Barack Obama nor Joe Biden is going to like the answer.