Night two of the Republican National Convention got off to a grindingly slow start. It was so slow that, putting my party comms hat back on, I hoped no one was watching. There had been a rumor that the Ron Paul delegates were going to stage a walkout, and that rumor sent a pair from the Texas delegation running from the convention center to the Forum at mid-sentence as we were talking. What became of that rumor, I don’t know. By the time I got through the media security shuttle gauntlet and got over to the Forum, all seemed tranquil enough.
A series of very forgettable speeches sent me hard into Twitter, hoping to at least find something to smile or get angry about.
But the boredom ran away quickly when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took the stage. She followed former AK Gov. Mike Huckabee, who at least lifted the energy a bit. Rice, however, delivered a tour de force speech covering history, foreign policy, economics, and education with a sweep that few policymakers can muster. When she called for school choice for poor families and declared education the “civil rights issue of our times,” the audience jumped to their feet. Rice earned no less than eight standing ovations, which probably caused MSNBC to cut away to Ed Schultz or something equally banal eight different times. It was probably jarring to the network’s audience, but the programmers probably figured the cutaways would be less jarring than seeing thousands of Republicans enthusiastically cheer a black woman. Such images don’t fit the too-white MSNBC’s preferred racialist narratives about the GOP.
Rice was followed by New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez. Martinez staked her claim to future GOP stardom with a rousing speech centering on how she discovered she is a Republican and how she has led her state. Martinez was feisty and real, and threw a punch or two of her own at the Obama regime.
While the two ladies brought the conventioneers up and the house down more than once, night two was Paul Ryan’s night.
Let’s be honest here. Prior to tonight, most people’s image of Ryan, if they had one, was of a wonkish pol who likes to talk numbers. In a world in which the phrase “You said there wouldn’t be math!” is popular, Ryan brings the math down hard. He talks numbers and spending and trends and entitlements in such a way that you know he knows what he’s talking about. But hard numbers are hard on the ears.
Tonight, Paul Ryan didn’t shy away from the numbers and he didn’t shy away from wielding numbers against the Obama administration. But he did more than that, much more. He brought Generation X into its own with his line about music: “My playlist starts with AC/DC and ends with Led Zeppelin.” He’s talkin’ about my generation there.
He drew in the young voters who backed Obama four years ago but find themselves unemployed and disillusioned now: “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. Everyone who feels stuck in the Obama economy is right to focus on the here and now. And I hope you understand this too, if you’re feeling left out or passed by: You have not failed, your leaders have failed you.”
Ryan pulled no punches when he talked about the 23 million unemployed or Barack Obama’s failure to improve the economy, but his soft-spoken Midwestern manner and his everyman looks added an appeal to the attacks that took any harsh edges off. The speech was skillfully written and even more skillfully delivered. Paul Ryan can go on offense as nimbly Sarah Palin, but from a different part of the political brain, and Ryan is more effective. At one point, Roger L. Simon, who was watching next to me, quipped that Ryan is “better than JFK.”
Someone of my generation, who grew up with “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” and “Morning in America,” might say that there’s something very familiar about Paul Ryan, and it starts with an R.
Mitt Romney really has his work cut out for him Thursday night. He now has to top his wife, Ann, and his running mate, Paul, both of whom have shown brilliantly in Tampa this week.