Tampa, night two: The road to Ryan
Night two, which would have been night three of the Republican National Convention but for the now-downgraded Hurricane Isaac, was constructed to roll out Paul Ryan on the national stage, and certainly he delivered the speech his party would have hoped for, steady throughout and building to a big finish that left the crowd rapturous. What’s more, his time on the stage was preceded by other strong, well-received speeches from two powerful women of color -- Susanna Martinez, the governor of New Mexico, and Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of State.
I will say nothing about the truth of their claims, or those of any of the evening’s other speakers; I leave that for other hands. I write about television, which deals in appearances.
These three turns came at the end of a long night that began with warm-up sets from Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul (mentioning “a certain congressman from Texas,” who has been persona semi grata during the convention), Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno and Sen. John McCain (“I had hopes of once addressing you under other circumstances,” he began), rattling a big saber.
There was, as there had been the night before, much umbrage based on the willfully misconstrued idea that the president claimed that people have nothing to do with their own success. Mitt Romney was said to be a good guy who “knew how” to fix everything the president had done or failed to do. Portrayed as a tapped-out deluded old fool at best, a socialistic anti-American God-hater at possibly not even worst, and no friend to poor old ladies, President Obama was made the singular personification of whatever was bad, or not yet good, or worse than it ever was, ever. But that is the incumbent’s cross to bear.
There were the usual suggestions that this party’s values and aspirations were better than that one’s, though many if not most of the values and aspirations mentioned Wednesday night were ones most people share. Indeed, many of the sentiments expressed would work equally well at the Democratic convention, though the intensity with which they were stated seemed to imply that they were for the exclusive use of the GOP.
The ex-presidents Bush made a video appearance, in which they did a little light reminiscing -- including the elder Bush imitating Dana Carvey initiating him -- and endorsed their party’s current hope. It was a quick in-and-out.
Tim Pawlenty opened the four-act main show, trying clumsily for comedy; his speech lacked only rim shots. Former governor and current media figure Mike Huckabee, less cuddly than he has been, followed to make Mormon Romney safe for evangelical voters, while painting the “self-described evangelical” president as anti-church and anti-life: Obama “believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb, even beyond the womb,” he said. He also said, “I’ve had the privilege of working with Bono for the past few years.”
Martinez told her version of the up-by-our-bootstraps family biography that even candidates who have no such history try hard to cultivate. She was friendly and funny. “I carried a Smith and Wesson .357,” she said to cheers (her parents ran a security firm), and one could imagine her shooting that gun in the air, blowing the smoke off the barrel and winking. (And iris out.) She hoped for “real solutions” and “honest debate” and gave Democrats some credit for the turnaround in her state.
Though currently out of politics, Rice is a big star in the party, and in her cool way she took the temperature up again. She was sober yet passionate, delivering a long speech with a big sweep, that took in the world but came back to speak of “a compassionate nation of immigrants,” and took particular pains not only to assert that education is destiny, but that it’s a destiny that depends on your neighborhood (a “rare utterance at a GOP convention,” said Tom Brokaw on NBC). Though critical, I don’t recall her personalizing her criticism.
Ryan came on to crunchy rock guitars and a big welcome. With his thick black hair, furrowed brow and Don Draper 5 o’clock shadow, he cuts a fairly dashing figure. At 42, he’s relatively young -- he drew a humorous distinction between himself and his running mate, by way of their iPods -- but seems younger. He has energy, if not quite gravity.
Though he got around to paying tribute to his family and his hometown and his mentor Jack Kemp, his tone was negative much of the time, though not hectoring. In a brilliant line, he addressed the young people still dependent on their parents, “staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life,” but he didn’t say much about policy or his own record and avoided social issues altogether. In oddly liberal terms, which did not seem to confuse his audience, he cast himself as the protector of Medicare, an enemy of “corporate welfare” (as he described the stimulus) and a friend to the needy: “We can make the safety net safe again.”
We saw his mother, his spouse and his children, which every candidate who has them eventually displays in order to show that he, or she, is normal and loved.
“We will take responsibility! We will lead!” he cried, bringing the crowd to its feet. But that is easily said.
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