Republican National Convention: Paul Ryan Comes Out Swinging

By: Gary Susman / August 30, 2012

THE UNKNOWN PAUL RYAN
Eight things you didn't know about Romney's running mate.
2012 RNC Recap No. 1
Highlights of the first night of TV coverage of the GOP confab.
Wednesday night’s primetime Republican National Convention coverage played a lot like Tuesday’s. There was an optimistic, hopeful speech by one of the party’s most prominent women, followed by one of its most prominent men delivering a blistering attack on the opposition.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke of American exceptionalism, citing her own rise to power as an example of a uniquely American success story. But the meat of the evening was the acceptance speech by Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who brought some real drama to the telecast by alternating upbeat recollections of his modest upbringing in Wisconsin and jokes about his hard rock fandom with scathing criticism of President Barack Obama.

Which classic TV character did Paul Ryan evoke?

Many pundits have said that Ryan, with his boyish features and widow’s-peak hairline, reminds them of Eddie Munster. But during the 42-year-old’s speech, viewers might have felt the combination of his youthful appearance, Reaganesque politics, and chirpy voice reminded them of Alex P. Keaton. (Seriously: close your eyes and listen to Ryan… don’t you hear Michael J. Fox?) If you loved the Family Ties character, with his cheerful self-confidence, his faith in supply-side economics, and his occasionally malicious put-downs of others, well then, you’ll adore Ryan.

Ryan’s speech was clearly the main event. When primetime coverage began at 10 PM ET, network talking heads chattered over Rice’s speech already in progress, and viewers didn’t get to hear much of what she had to say. (Maybe that’s why Internet buzz focused more on the lipstick on her teeth than the content of her speech.) On CBS, Bob Schieffer got in a mild dig at Senator John McCain (who was sitting next to him), telling the 2008 nominee that Ryan is no Sarah Palin. Maybe not, but as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suggested to a reporter on the floor, Ryan serves the same function Palin did: Convincing skeptical conservatives that the man on top of the ticket shares their agenda.

Ryan spoke for 37 minutes (some viewers may have missed the last three minutes of his speech, since it ran past 11 PM), but it didn’t seem like a long speech. He moved fluidly and easily between his hometown homilies and his takedowns of Obama. The result was a speech that had the floor crowd cheering and booing in all the right places. Factually, the speech was full of misleading claims and demonstrably false assertions (even Fox News said so), but these speeches are never about facts, just emotional appeal. Even if you disagreed with Ryan, you had to admire his (or his speechwriter’s) turns of phrase.

He said the Obama campaign’s hollow attempt to recapture the hopeful expectations of four years ago was “like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.” And he had a great passage about the unemployment crisis: “College graduates should not have to live out their twenties in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.”

Ryan had some fun with the quarter-century age gap between himself and his running mate, dismissing Romney’s iPod playlist as elevator music while revealing his own playlist runs “from AC/DC to Zeppelin.” Then again, such remarks may have alienated voters over 55 and bewildered voters under 35. (Doesn’t Ryan like any American bands? Oh, yeah, Rage Against the Machine. That didn’t work out too well.)

Rumors persisted that the final night of the convention on Thursday would feature Clint Eastwood as a surprise guest speaker. Even though party officials may have forgiven him for that Super Bowl ad last February that seemed to tout Obama’s accomplishment in saving the auto industry, would they really want to give Eastwood a primetime slot? He might upstage their presidential candidate. Then again, their vice presidential candidate has already done that.