To the strains of the Thin Lizzy hit “The Boys Are Back In Town,” Paul Ryan took the stage at Wednesday night’s Republican Convention. The music was, I suppose, in keeping with the musical taste he asserted during his speech. Ryan says he told his running mate Mitt Romney, “I hope it’s not a deal-breaker, Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC, and ends with Zeppelin.” But most of Ryan’s speech was more serious than that, of course. He started off by denouncing Democratic Party members – “fear and division is all they’ve got left” – and scoffed that President Obama’s campaign ads are useless: “The president is just throwing away money, and he’s pretty experienced at that.”
This was in keeping with the favorite joke-subject of the night: President Obama’s lack of business experience. Earlier in the evening, fleeting Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty tried to work this subject like a contestant on America’s Got Talent: “Barack Obama failed, but a lot of people fail at their first job.” Should Romney be elected President, Pawlenty said, “At last, Barack Obama will get some experience in the private sector.”
Ryan’s lines were more effective with the crowd. He killed with this one: “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 earned Ryan a standing ovation. On Fox News, Brit Hume described Ryan as having, in general, delivered “a lethal shot.”
At one point, Ryan contradicted himself. He chided the President by saying, “President Obama was asked not long ago to reflect on any mistakes he might have made. He said, well, I haven’t communicated enough. He said his job is to ‘tell a story to the American people’ – as if that’s the whole problem here? He needs to talk more, and we need to be better listeners?” He insisted that Obama’s storytelling was “getting old.” But then a few minutes later, he asserted that “behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores.” That’s a lotta stories he wants to tell, it would seem.
We have to keep this in perspective, of course. For all his talk this night about shrinking government, as Ryan himself has said, he’s running on Mitt Romney’s platform, not his own. In his excellent book Miami and the Seige of Chicago, a chronicle of the 1968 Presidential election, Norman Mailer described the office of the Vice Presidency as “not the same thing as [having] real power – more like being a movie star … The Vice President can promise many things, but can be certain of delivering on nothing.”
When I turned on CBS at 8 p.m., I thought at first that the network had relented and was airing the Republican Convention earlier than 10 p.m.: There were all these people wearing crazy hats, shouting and clapping. But nope, it was just Big Brother. It’s too bad; if CBS and the other broadcast networks had run their convention coverage during the 9 p.m. hour, millions of citizens could have heard one of the most radical voices of the party, former governor Mike Huckabee, tell us why you should not vote for Barak Obama (that, significantly, is how he phrased it most of the time – not why you should vote for Mitt Romney, but why you should not vote for Obama): “[Obama] said, ‘You didn’t build it’; translation: ‘It doesn’t belong to you!’
Huckabee was most entertaining in trying to make it sound as though we’re all living in the first stages of a kind of prison camp guarded by a sinister tooth fairy: He said that under President Obama, people have been “herded into dependence on a govenrment that promises us candy but gives us cavities,” that people now feel, ‘I could rest comfortably and wait for good old Uncle Sugar to feed me, lead me, and then bleed me.’” What?
On Wednesday night in the convention hall, the “We Built It” slogan was replaced by a new one: “We Can Change It.” What, were they begging people to switch the channel? But I, like Tim Pawlenty, joke badly: There was a lot of stuff to hear here, ideas and expressions that deserved wide exposure and scrutiny.