In the Arena

The Ryan Speech

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Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan addresses delegates in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 29, 2012.

After Wednesday night’s speech, I think it might be fair to say that Paul Ryan may have a future in politics. It was a very effective speech; he is a less-than-polished but very effective speaker (indeed, the lack of polish enhanced the credibility of his words). The tone was perfect. He attacked the President — inaccurately, at times — more in sadness than in anger. He told stories, always a good thing. There was humor and humanity. There was some nice writing: the Obama Administration was a “ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.” There was no plausible vision of the future, however … but we haven’t heard that from either side so far in this sorry campaign.

Ayn Rand was in the house tonight, but under wraps. Ryan talked about the “supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.” He said we were in danger of living in “a country where everything is free but us.” And that’s pretty much where he lost me. We actually live in a country with a modest but useful social safety net that is in need of reform. We live in a country where it is easier to start and build a business than any other advanced industrial democracy. We live in a country with a tattered, outdated regulatory apparatus that needs serious attention. We live in a country where the moneyed elite pays fewer taxes and suffers fewer restrictions than it has in nearly a century. Those who object to the influence that this elite wields are not criticizing success; they are criticizing plutocracy, which crushes true democracy.

(PHOTOS: Paul Ryan’s Life and Career in Photos)

Ryan also continued to attack the $716 billion in Medicare savings proposed by the President that he, Ryan, included in his own budget. That sort of disingenuousness puts a serious dent in his reputation for probity.

He attacked the President for adding $5 trillion to the national debt — and yes, some of that came from stimulus spending, but most of it came as a result of the Bush tax cuts and the fierce recession caused by those Ayn Randian Masters of the Universe who believed they could get away with industrial-strength conniving on Wall Street. I’ll admit I’m confused. When in power, Republicans seem to believe, as Dick Cheney said, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” When out of power, they place debt clocks prominently in their convention halls and blame the cascade of red ink that their policies caused on those who inherited the mess. Ryan scored points with me when he acknowledged that the debt wasn’t all Obama’s doing. But perhaps he can explain to us how the debt can be so important at the same time he is proposing ever-more-massive tax cuts. One thing Reagan did prove was that tax cuts don’t raise revenue. That’s why he had to raise taxes.

(PHOTOS: Republican National Convention 2012)

Another curious point: Ryan criticized the President for ignoring the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan debt commission, when Ryan, who served on the commission, also “ignored” its findings by voting against the final report (even as other Republicans, like Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, voted for it). And another: he seemed to blame Obama for the closing of the General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., when Obama actually saved General Motors, and Ryan and Romney opposed the bailout. (Of course, the layoffs that were the consequence of the General Motors bailout makes it more difficult for the President to honestly criticize Romney for the layoffs that Bain Capital caused in the name of efficiency.)

Ryan has a vision, to be sure. It should be debated. On Wednesday he showed himself to be an able, clever speaker. We’ll see, over the next several weeks, whether he can defend his rather contradictory positions.

One final point: Republican audiences continue to be wall-to-wall ugly. On Wednesday the crowd interrupted Ryan midsentence when he said that he and Romney “know what places like Wisconsin and Michigan look like” — cheers — “when times are good.” This was a birther reflex. The obvious implication, which I’m certain Ryan didn’t intend, was that Obama is a furriner who doesn’t know what places like Michigan and Ohio look like. There will be more such moments as we proceed toward November. I’m looking forward to when either Romney or Ryan stands up to the un-American ugliness.