TAMPA – Tonight, Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan delivered a masterful speech that served as the strongest indictment against President Obama yet articulated.
It was scathing in its criticism of Obama’s policies without being personally nasty. It was intelligent without getting too wonky. It portrayed our nation’s current situation as grim while making a positive case that things can be better. And after weeks of attacks trying to paint Ryan as a radical, the speech was very humanizing.
The Mitt Romney-Ryan ticket faces a number of obstacles in making the case against Obama. Whatever Americans may feel about the economy or the nation’s debt burden, they find Obama generally likable. And they know that he inherited a difficult situation when he became president. So instead of making a maximalist case against Obama, Ryan made a narrower one – that Obama’s record simply hasn’t lived up to his lofty rhetoric. It’s one that just about everybody agrees with outside of partisan Democrats. Voters all remember what it was like four years ago – the hope, the excitement, the promise of change. And objectively speaking, the reality turned out a lot differently.
“It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new,” Ryan said. “Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.”
Riffing off Obama’s claim that his failure as president was that he didn’t communicate enough, Ryan said,
“Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What’s missing is leadership in the White House. And the story that Barack Obama does tell, forever shifting blame to the last administration, is getting old. The man assumed office almost four years ago – isn’t it about time he assumed responsibility?”
Ryan went through Obama’s policies – focusing on his $831 billion stimulus package and Obamacare – and noted that we ended up with $16 trillion in debt, stagnant growth and stubbornly high unemployment.
“President Obama is the kind of politician who puts promises on the record, and then calls that the record,” Ryan sharply observed. “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.”
He argued that America is not resigned to this fate. “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’s speech also succeeded by introducing himself to voters. He came across as earnest and genuine, describing his family, his life growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, his father’s death when he was a teenager, and his mom’s hard work in building a small business. “To this day, my Mom is my role model,” Ryan said, tearing up. He used that as a jumping off point for a description of what it takes to build a business, offering a sharp rebuke to Obama’s infamous “you didn’t build that” line.
“Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing,” Ryan said. “All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere. A lot of heart goes into each one. And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning. Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them. After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.”
When Ryan gave his first speech as Romney’s running mate earlier this month, I observed that it seemed as if he were holding a mirror up to Obama. I felt that way again tonight, when Ryan early in his speech, “I have never seen opponents so silent about their record, and so desperate to keep their power. They’ve run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division are all they’ve got left.”
It immediately struck me as the mirror image of this line Obama uttered four years ago when he accepted the Democratic nomination in Denver in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of adoring fans: “if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.” That is an apt description of the 2012 Obama campaign. And Ryan deftly exposed it tonight, while making the case for an alternative.