Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tampa, Day 2: ‘Red meat delivered well’

IN HIS big national convention coming-out party, Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican congressman who’s now Mitt Romney’s running mate, praised the bona fides of his new boss tonight, lit into President Obama with the relish of an attack dog, and doubled down on a pinched, privileged vision of America that endeared itself to the faithful in Tampa.

With a speech by turns eloquent and slashing, Ryan staked his claim to being the new Republican big-picture ideologue: a Gen-Xer with rock music on his iPod and rolling back the nation’s most enduring social initiatives on his mind — chronologically a man with a future, politically a man thoroughly enamored of his party’s past. Bush 43 press secretary Ari Fleischer tweeted: “This is red meat delivered well.”

We should have seen this coming. After New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hurled rhetorical sirloin into the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum last night, it was clear that the thrust of the oratory from then on would be meant for people already in the choir, an appeal to the conservative base rather than anything like an olive branch to the rest of the country.

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Paul Ryan grabbed his butcher’s apron and picked up where Christie left off the night before. “After four years of getting the runaround, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Mitt Romney,” he said.

At times, Ryan invested his speech with some poetry and showed a grasp of the moment; he recognized what was clearly the pinnacle of his political career, and he made the most of it.

The congressman seeks to bring a more middle-class sensibility to the Romney campaign, one that’s a marked contrast (a world away, really) from the gilded biography of Mitt Romney. Ryan also seems to intuitively understand his role as the wunderkind vanguard of what could be a new generation of conservatives — Generation-GOP, if you will — eager to make policy in Washington from the White House.

Pitching to the students that have been a core bloc of support for Obama in 2008, for example, Ryan made a bid to feel their pain, and took an affecting jab at the president in the bargain. “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!”

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THERE weren’t many policy or platform details in his speech; Ryan made only the slightest variations on the glittering generalities advanced by Romney on the campaign trail. And that may be a problem as RomneyRyan turns its eyes to the relatively few undecided voters who might still be persuadable.

All the chatter about the contents of his iPod makes for fresh optics and geek cred, but that won’t last. They can’t conceal the hard truths: by way of tax cuts, the proposed Ryan federal budget would pour money on wealthy Americans with a soup ladle, even as it would eviscerate health care for millions of middle-class Americans; deeply reduce federal budget investments in science and technology, education and training; and set American women back generations on matters related to their reproductive rights. Such is the document that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called “Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids.”

Just because you’ve got Zeppelin in your music collection doesn’t mean you’re as visionary and open-minded as the music you listen to.

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He was all too eager tonight to recycle the falsehood about $716 billion being funneled out of Medicare by President Obama, and to thunder about the malaise Ryan and the Republicans claim is what will endure of the Obama legacy. “Fear and division is all they’ve got left,” he said.

And young gun or not, Ryan can be just as reflexively myopic about the road from 2009 to now as any politician of longer standing on Capitol Hill.

“Here’s a question,” Ryan said tonight. “Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?”

Here’s an answer: That depends.

That depends on voters’ decisions about the outcome of the various congressional races to be decided on Nov. 6. That depends on the public’s tolerance for more of the deliberate gridlock on Capitol Hill, the gridlock that’s fueled public cynicism about Congress, the gridlock that has stymied Obama White House initiatives from almost the beginning, the gridlock that Republicans pledged to create and cultivate from the moment Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell stated publicly in December 2010 that “our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.”

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell observed: “Joe Biden now has a very real fight on his hands.” He was observing Ryan’s rhetorical style, as smooth and assured as Romney’s is, well, not so smooth and assured.

Depending on how well Romney himself does tomorrow night, Team Romney can expect a respectable post-convention bump in the opinion polls. But the style points won’t last long, and tonight Paul Ryan has given the fact-checkers what amounts to a short-term full employment act — a 65-day contract that just started.

Image credit: Ryan: Associated Press. GOP convention logo: © 2012 2011-12 Committee on Arrangements for the 2012 Republican National Convention.

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