Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech to the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Wednesday night marked the full emergence on the national scene of a talented politician of the first order – Think Franklin Roosevelt at the 1920 Democratic National Convention, Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech or the rise of Bill Clinton. Watch this guy.
Ryan is the very opposite of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, the flaming shooting star who electrified the last GOP convention in 2008 and breathed a brief sense of energy and life to the geriatric, doomed John McCain campaign. Palin energized the conservative faithful then just as Ryan has done now. But she wasn’t ready for prime time then and quickly proved she never would be. Anyone who could be taken down by that feared attack-dog Katie Couric obviously wasn’t going to mix it on the world stage against the likes of Vladimir Putin or Hu Jintao. In her vice presidential candidates’ debate, she couldn’t even stand up to Mighty Joe Biden.
Palin in fact had been an energetic, highly effective, honest and crusading governor of Alaska. But she had no experience on national prime time. Her flame-out has been the stuff of legend comparable to that of Dan Quayle back in 1988.
But Ryan is a very different, vastly tougher customer. Here is a seven-term congressman, who is still only 42 years old. If Romney is elected, Ryan will come close to Richard Nixon and Theodore Roosevelt as one of the youngest vice presidents ever. And he is an outstanding political talent.
Ryan’s convention speech was filled with memorable metaphors and other zingers that are going to haunt President Obama and ricochet after him from now to Nov. 6.
He certainly didn’t impress everybody. Sally Kohn wrote, on Fox News of all places: “To anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.”
Now Kohn obviously meant those words as a devastating putdown. But similar accusations were repeatedly thrown – and with good reason — at Franklin Roosevelt during his four presidential election victories and at Ronald Reagan as well. None of it stuck to their Teflon hides
What we need to remember is that Ryan has already pulled off one of the greatest switcheroos in modern U.S. politics. A seven-term congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee – the ultimate Washington insider and power-broker – has become the beloved darling of the Tea Party movement that for years loudly, even fanatically proclaimed its undying rejection and contempt for all Washington insiders and power-brokers.
At one level, Ryan’s triumph in taming the Tea Party raging wolves and turning them into mewing kittens confirms the TP’s meltdown into a bigger joke than the 2011 season Indianapolis Colts.
But it also shows Ryan’s ability to pull a FDR or a Ronald Reagan. He can take the political passions of millions of people and transform them into their opposites without the holders of those passions even realizing they’ve just been turned inside out. Instead, they roll their eyes and thank him for it. He is a political Merlin.
Most pundits will throw up their hands in pious horror at the sight of such shameless political legerdemain.
Eisenhower lied! As Murray Kempton famously discovered to his Shock! Shock! in a famous 1967 Esquire article.
Yes – and Ike also kept the peace, maintained prosperity and left office with approval numbers as high as he entered it.
The success of Ryan’s speech has to send terrors through the Obama camp. Joe Biden serenely glided above Palin in the 2008 vice presidential debate. This year it’s Pay-Back Time. The polarities have been reversed. Imagine poor old Joe rambling on about his fantasy beloved role as Man of the People up against this ferocious young working class Irish Catholic from the mid-West with a mind like a steel-edged bear trap and welding an aggression to match. It’ll be bumbling Primo Carnera taken apart by Max Baer, Bambi going up against a werewolf. Heinz Doofenshmirtz against Perry The Platypus.
Will Ryan’s rising clout and clear success at energizing the Republican base force President Obama and David Axelrod to gently wheel off poor old Joe in his wheelchair and replace him with a still-at-the-top-of-her game Hillary Clinton? Was that decision already reached when the three of them lunched together in the utmost secrecy a couple of weeks ago? Or will the Obama team hunker down and imagine that Biden can still last five minutes in the ring as Ryan’s punch bag?
Whatever decision they take, Ryan’s attacks on Wednesday night and his undoubted success at energizing the conservative Republican base has transformed the dynamics of the presidential race. And these developments have vindicated Mitt Romney’s political judgment and allowed him to enter the last stage of this long campaign exactly where he wants to be – neck-and-neck with an incumbent president, a unified party and an energized base behind him, riding high in the position he’s most comfortable, experienced and successful in – as Chairman of the Board.
It worked for Sinatra.
Martin Sieff is an editor at Sputnik, the Russian-owned news organization. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East (2008), Gathering Storm (2014) and Cycles of Change: The Three Great Eras of American History and the Coming Crisis that will Lead to the Fourth (2014). Follow Martin on: @MartinSieff