What was so deft in Paul Ryan’s speech last night was the image of a fading President Obama, a man “grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.” You had to love Ryan’s description of the unemployed college graduate living in his “childhood bedroom staring up at fading Obama posters.” Fading was the operative word. Ouch.
One feels that the contrast of President Obama with the youthful Ryan was not entirely accidental. But there were a few moments at the beginning of the speech when it appeared that Ryan might not be able to deliver. Usually so fluid, Ryan started out stiff. It looked as if there was a good chance that, after the build-up, Ryan was going to disappoint. Then Ryan spoke about his mother, Betty, who was in the audience, and who as a widow in her fifties had gone back to school and started a new business and with it “a new life.” An obviously moved Ryan touched his heart, as his mother stood, and wiped away a tear — always risky when the whole world really is watching. But this was the turning point. It was as if the emotion had released something and freed Ryan up to be himself. From then on, it was smooth sailing. Ryan did talk about himself and Janesville, Wis., his hometown, but unlike some of the GOP speakers, he recognized that his job was to sell Mitt Romney, not himself. Ryan was the second-best promoter of the man at the top of the ticket so far (after Ann Romney).
In addressing the economic plight of the country, Ryan followed the advice of New Jersey governor Chris Christie — surprisingly, Tuesday night’s Mr. Congeniality — and talked to the audience as adults who are able to handle the truth. “I’m going to level with you — we don’t have much time [to rescue the economy],” he said. Although I think Ryan conveyed a sense that Romney-Ryan has the optimism, the right philosophy, and courage to tackle the mess we find ourselves in, my takeaway is the delicious picture of a doddering Barack Obama as a man of the past.