Republican National Convention’s Mostly Excellent Speechifying on Day Two: Paul Ryan, Condoleezza Rice, and Susana Martinez


–Richard E. Vatz

     What a difference four years makes in the substance and respect for the Republican National Convention Vice Presidential speaker.  More on that in a few paragraphs.


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     I am not going to do a thorough analysis, particularly a content analysis, of any speech on Day Two but the Vice Presidential nominee’s, but first here are some quick impressions leading up to that:


— Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabeewere all elocutionary disappointments.  All of them had timing problems and their one-liners lacked punch for the most part.  The audience wasn’t engaged either, and that hurts. Huckabee, the best of the worst, got a little better as he went along.  I was a Pawlenty for Vice President rooter, but he would have to have spoken better than he did last night. I did like two of his lines, 1. that it is hard to say what Obama’s worst decision has been and particularly 2. the understanding the president deserves: “Barack Obama’s failed us. But look, it’s understandable. A lot of people fail at their first job.”


  New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was very good – delivered her short speech well — and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was exceptional.  Who knew what an excellent public speaker Dr. Rice is?  Martinez was smooth and proud of her overcoming difficulties to become a political leader without the self-pitying, anti-American bemoaning that characterizes Democratic self-congratulatory speakers.


     But Rice’s speech was scintillating – and the delivery was spellbinding.  Finally a speaker focusing on foreign policy, and she focused the attention in a rhetorically meaningful way: “”Where does America Stand” under the Obama Administration?  She repeated this devastating rhetorical question.  We cannot as the great military and moral centerpiece of the free world “lead from behind,” as the timorous Obama would have us do.


     And in one of the most moving personal notes, Dr. Rice talks of herovercoming odds, again, as Republicans do, not in a self-commiserating way as is the wont of Democrats who beat demographic odds, but in a way that celebrates individualism:  And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow
Birmingham. The segregated city of the south where her parents
cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants, but they
have convinced that even if she cannot have it hamburger at
Woolworths, she can be the president of the United States if she
wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state.” 


     What a great choice she would have been for Vice President, except for the excellent choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Davis Ryan.


      Rep. Ryan gave a brilliant speech, the first speech perhaps ever by a Vice Presidential nominee of either party at a national convention that was substantive, policy-driven, dignified  and not obsequious to the party’s presidential nominee. And did I say his delivery was perfect?  It was…


     Introduced by tapes of Gov. Romney and Ryan’s wife to rousing applause, Ryan focused in on the material reasons Mitt and he and the Republican Party should replace Obama and the Democrats:  the recovery that was explicitly promised is nowhere in sight, including 23 million unemployed or underemployed, and half of college graduates unable to get a job.


     Ryan’s devastating question followed: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?”
     The manifest failures of the stimulus, Solyndra, the paradoxical Obama-Democratic suborning of corporate welfare and cronyism as the Administration’s trial-and-error policies led more to error and the loss of an unrenewable resource—time, and the economic and government-controlled abomination of ObamaCare.  The downgrading of America’s credit, literally and figuratively, and the appointing of Commissions whose decently wise counsel was ignored – the Obama Administration needed, Ryan said powerfully, to be replaced by good and serious leadership.  You could hear the echoes of the last conservative Democratic president, John F. Kennedy, saying “We do not shrink from these responsibilities; we welcome them!”


     And Ryan hit on my personal rhetorical bête noire, a Democrat musing on his or her failings saying the problem was “I haven’t communicated enough.”  That’s always the problem – not substantive, but that they need to communicate more and better.  As Ryan asked, “…that’s the whole problem here? He needs to talk more, and we need to be better listeners?”  He could only have added, “Gimme a break.”

     Perhaps his most impressive specifics were left to comment on the issue of the Obama Administration’s philosophic and policy war on small business and individualism.  Ryan said, “With tax fairness and regulatory reform, we’ll put government back on the side of the men and women who create jobs, and the men and women who need jobs.”

     “My Mom started a small business, and I’ve seen what it takes. Mom was 50 when my Dad died. She got on a bus every weekday for years, and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison. She earned a new degree and learned new skills to start her small business. It wasn’t just a new livelihood. It was a new life. And it transformed my Mom from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman whose happiness wasn’t just in the past. Her work gave her hope. It made our family proud. And to this day, my Mom is my role model.”

     And in contrast to Obama’s “You didn’t build that” collectivist ethic, there was this tribute to American initiative: “Behind every small business, there’s a story worth knowing. All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores – these didn’t come out of nowhere. A lot of heart goes into each one. And if small businesspeople say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning. Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them. After all that work, and in a bad economy, it sure doesn’t help to hear from their president that government gets the credit. What they deserve to hear is the truth: Yes, you did build that.”

     Ryan commandingly and forcefully promised “Let’s get this done.”

     No tricks, no ugliness; just a tremendous policy-centric speech by a man who could be president if necessary.

     And his praise for the Gov. Romney’s political acumen and almost unique success in a variety of areas, accompanied by his tweaking of the Governor’s anachronistic musical tastes seemed perfect rhetorically.
     Another great night of speechifying at the Republican National Convention.

Professor Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012, 2013)

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