Republicans hail rousing speech from 'young gun'

Fri, Aug 31, 2012, 01:00

THE REPUBLICAN faithful greeted vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan like a rock star on Wednesday night, jumping from their chairs to whoop and cheer, giving ovation after ovation.

Ryan (42) was unlike any other speaker at the convention, slender and ascetic, with a dark widow’s peak, a midwestern twang and a 5 o’clock shadow. He exuded energy, youth and determination; neither lyrical nor lofty, but aggressive and snarky.

The congressional “young gun” knew how to make the audience laugh and he knew how to turn the knife. Like Barack Obama, the Republicans’ chief budget wonk comes across as the smartest kid in the class.

By the end of Ryan’s speech, many a delegate was wishing that he, not Romney, was challenging Obama, that the blue-eyed Irish-American boy from Wisconsin rather than the retirement age hundred millionaire, could debate the president on October 3rd. Some Democrats tremble at the thought that Ryan may grind vice-president Joe Biden to a pulp when they do battle on October 11th.

One wisecrack nearly brought the house down: “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.”

Ryan’s prime-time debut was hailed as a generational shift, something he seemed to recognise, saying at the outset. “I accept the calling of my generation . . . and I know that we are ready.”

Ryan reportedly wrote the speech himself and he showed a talent for nifty turns of phrase. “After four years of getting the run-around, America needs a turnaround and the man for the job is Governor Mitt Romney,” he said.

The candidate’s wife and three children sat in the VIP box with Ann Romney and Ryan’s mother Betty, who lives in Florida. She is on Medicare, the government health insurance plan for the elderly.

Ryan started a trend among Republican politicians of publicising their ageing parents as proof that they, not Obama, are the saviours of Medicare. “To this day, my mom is my role model,” he said, wiping away a tear.

An army of fact-checkers called Ryan on two points. He blamed Obama for saying during a visit to the endangered General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, during the 2008 campaign: “I believe that if our government is there to support you . . . this plant will be here for another hundred years.”

The plant closed with thousands of jobs lost. Ryan failed to mention that the decision was taken during George W Bush’s presidency.

Likewise, he criticised Obama for failing to act on recommendations for debt reduction by a bipartisan commission. He did not say he had voted against the report.

The fact-checkers missed the greater untruths though, that Ryan, one of the biggest obstructionists in the Republican-run House, claimed Republicans “stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems”; that a politician who advocates huge tax cuts for the rich and has opposed attempts to rein in Wall Street promised “tax fairness and regulatory reform”.

The biggest whopper of all was Ryan’s pious recognition that “the greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” This is the man who drafted a budget so hostile to the poor that Catholic bishops protested.

After cataloguing America’s economic woes Ryan asked: “Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?”

He continued: “Obamacare, as much as anything else, explains why a presidency that began with such anticipation now comes to such a disappointing close.”

Obama had started off “with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new,” Ryan noted. 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.”

Ryan railed against “the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners” and offered 12 million new jobs – provenance unknown – if Romney-Ryan are elected. That sounded far more enticing than “the best this administration offers – a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”