Did Paul Ryan under perform on purpose?

Paul Ryan holds back on attacking Obama and makes the positive case for Mitt Romney

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Paul Ryan addresses the RNC
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Guy Bentley
On 30 August 2012 12:34

The answer to the question is, invariably, yes.

Those who watched Paul Ryan's speech to the Republican National Convention last night (or caught up with it over breakfast like me) would have been acutely aware of the danger of Ryan delivering a barnstormer that would have eclipsed Romney's keynote tonight.

He's capable of it and between him and his staff, camp Ryan is capable of writing it. So what happened?

Logically, it would be foolish for the ticket if more applause, inspiration, ovations and media love was felt towards the bottom end. Ryan's tempered speech last night still rocked the house, but it was all, at times, a little perfunctory. And that made it the perfect vice presidential acceptance speech as far as RNC strategists are concerned.

Whilst the speech was intended to introduce the small town, family man from Janesville, Wisconsin the speech was clearly focused on why the top of the ticket is the man to get America out its current economic woes. Paul Ryan with his significant economic clout and reform agenda is more than capable of delivering speeches that serve as damning indictment of the Obama record.

Whilst delivering some of the the familiar blows to key Obama initiatives, this was not a speech that went for the jugular. Ryan was less about hitting the three-pointers himself and more about serving up an alley-oop for his boss, Mitt Romney, to slam dunk.

There were also some sweet moments, such as when Ryan brought attention to his mother in the audience, who, after his father died, went back to school, learned new skills, and started a new business.

But juxtaposed against this rhetoric of self-help and individual initiative was a strange element of outreach to 2008 Obama voters who perhaps have been left short changed by the President’s first term. Contrasting with his earlier clarion call for personal responsibility, Ryan boomed,

“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. Everyone who feels stuck in the Obama economy is right to focus on the here and now. And I hope you understand this too, if you’re feeling left out or passed by: You have not failed, your leaders have failed you.”

This element of the speech, while perhaps required to silence critics that would argue that Romney-Ryan is doing little to reach out to the 2008 Obama independents, was more condescending than encouraging, and would have perhaps sounded more at home in a speech given at an Occupy rally in Zucotti Park.

In keeping with the spirit of the convention, it was speech of ideas rather than specifics. A battle between robust individualism and big government dependence.

Ryan emphasised how Mitt Romney’s career in the private sector and his in public service complemented  each other as team capable of tackling America's challenges. He spoke well about Romney’s successes in business and as governor of Massachusetts, building on the groundwork laid by Ann Romney earlier in the week.

The unambiguous message to the Obama campaign and to the American public was that this ticket is proud of Mitt Romney’s record and will not back down in the face the barrage of assaults.

The sometimes sensitive subject of Mormonism was also broached by Ryan. It was entirely necessary and built a foundation for Romney to build upon in his speech today. Party activists as well as the electorate are known to have voiced concerned over the GOP candidates religion. Now was the time to get the cards on the table.

Whilst of different faiths, there were common values that united them, said Ryan. The protection of weakest members of society and that all are made in the image of God inform both men about their view of the world and society.

In essence, Ryan made the case before the American people that Mormonism is not a ‘weird cult’ and is thoroughly compatible with the best of America.

All in all, though Ryan’s speech last night was far from earth-shattering, it did not seek to shatter. It sought to reassure, coalition build and hype the man who will supposedly lift the US from its current economic and political miasma. Let’s hope that tonight, for Romney’s sake, he can deliver.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. Guy Bentley is the Editorial Assistant at The Commentator

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