Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan portrayed Barack Obama as a shallow president who has failed to live up to his promises, in a convention speech also infused with an optimism reminiscent of Obama’s 2008 “yes we can” campaign theme.
Arguing for a “clean break” from Obama, Ryan pledged that he and Mitt Romney, who will accept the party’s presidential nomination tonight, would make the difficult decisions necessary to improve the economy and create jobs. He vowed to use Medicare -- an issue where Democrats traditionally have an advantage --as a campaign cudgel against Obama, saying, “We want this debate.”
“They’ve run out of ideas. Their moment came and went. Fear and division is all they’ve got left,” Ryan said in a 37-minute nationally televised speech from Tampa, Florida, as he formally accepted No. 2 spot on the ticket.
Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who chairs the House Budget Committee and the architect of Republicans’ budget blueprint, was working to stoke the enthusiasm of his party and small-government Tea Party activists who have been skeptical of Romney, without exacerbating concerns among independents and swing voters that he and Romney would gut popular programs.
“I accept the calling of my generation to give our children the America that was given to us, with opportunity for the young and security for the old,” said Ryan, 42, whose wife, three children and mother sat nearby in the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Ryan sought to turn his greatest potential liability into an asset. He has proposed transforming Medicare into a system that provides set contributions for future seniors to buy health coverage rather than the benefits they now receive.
Democrats argue that would turns Medicare into a voucher program; Ryan charged Obama with “raiding” the program.
He was referring to $716 billion in Medicare cuts, which were used to finance Obama’s 2010 health-care law. The seven-term congressman didn’t mention that his own budget also maintained those reductions to lower the deficit, a proposal he only abandoned after Romney rejected the plan as part of their joint platform.
Romney’s choice of Ryan as his running mate has prompted a debate over remaking the government health program for future beneficiaries, a politically perilous proposition given its popularity with seniors who vote in disproportionate numbers.
Criticizing the president in an earnest and measured tone, Ryan described Obama as a politician long on rhetoric and finger-pointing and short on accomplishments.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What’s missing is leadership in the White House,” Ryan said.
By emphasizing criticism of Obama in his speech, rather than extolling his running mate’s qualifications or introducing the public to his own background, Ryan risks defining himself as the attack dog of the campaign, according to Rogan Kersh, provost at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“The danger is that he defined himself as an attacker foremost, and Americans tiring of a largely negative campaign may be turned off by an initial glimpse of Ryan in consigliere mode, doing the boss’s dirty work,” Kersh said.
A Midwesterner from Janesville, Wisconsin, known for his affinity for hunting and fishing as well as the exercise regimen P90-X, Ryan provided a contrast with the privileged background and reserved demeanor of Romney, 65, at a time when Republicans are pushing to appeal to younger voters. Emphasizing his “small-town” roots, Ryan also noted the generational gulf, gently ribbing Romney for his taste in music, comparing it to what you would hear in a hotel elevator.
Ryan’s appearance on the convention stage during prime-time marked a rare moment at a gathering that has mostly kept members of Congress -- whose approval rating is barely in double digits -- from the spotlight.
It underlined the stakes of Romney’s decision to team with Ryan, thereby binding himself with congressional Republicans better known for defying Obama and eschewing compromise than for the consensus-building which Romney has said would mark his governing style.
If Romney won, Ryan would be the first member of the House directly elected to the vice presidency since John Nance Garner, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s running mate, in 1932.
His speech came the night after Romney’s wife, Ann, sought to humanize her husband with a speech in which she urged voters to “get to know” Mitt. To those who have yet to decide on their presidential candidate, she said: “You can trust Mitt.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also pitched in on the outreach effort to key groups in a convention keynote that sang the praises of the working class, voters in nonprofessional jobs without college degrees.
Ryan, too, appealed to those workers disillusioned about Obama, pointing to a General Motors factory in his hometown that closed despite a promise from the president that with government help, it would “be here for another hundred years.” Yet the anecdote was misleading; the plant closed in December 2008, before Obama took office.