Conservatives were elated and liberals, one suspects, somewhat apprehensive following Congressman Paul Ryan’s rousing performance at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa on Wednesday night.
The vice presidential candidate’s persuasive prime time premiere was doubly impressive, coming as it did on the heels of the tough act to follow provided by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose masterful presentation signaled that she may well be a force to reckon with in the Republican Party’s future.
And both breakout performances, along with the rave reviews given to New Mexico governor Susana Martinez, only raise the bar for, and increase the pressure on, presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose long-awaited speech before the convention on Thursday night must now be as compelling as Rice’s and as electrifying as Ryan’s, lest the delegates leave Tampa with the feeling that they could have done better, as the RNC slogan says, but they didn’t.
Although Ryan’s address was factually-challenged, as scores of journalists easily proved while he was still on the podium, the enthusiastic reception accorded him by his passionate and adoring audience showed that he was the new darling of the conservative wing of the Republican Party, if not its anointed king.
His ability to push all the right buttons and to rally the troops behind him should give pause to Democrats who may have concluded prematurely that Ryan’s selection as Romney’s running mate rendered the Republican ticket easier to defeat. If Ryan maintains his “superstar” status over the next seven weeks, he may be instrumental in motivating Republicans to squeeze every last possible vote out of the devoted Republican “base”, a factor that could prove decisive if the race remains as close as it seems to be now.
And Ryan’s ascendancy should worry liberals on a substantive level as well, because his newfound prominence might also mean a greater role for his economic and social views that were so eloquently and thoroughly condemned by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic this week as constituting “the demonization of need and the diabolization of weakness”. The only consolation, one might thus venture, is that Ryan and his undeniable charisma are not the vehicles that will convince too many liberal Jews to defect to the Republican side.
Rice’s stellar performance and enthusiastic reception, on the other hand, were laden with heavy irony, given that her pro-choice positions render her virtually unelectable in a party now controlled by social conservatives, just as her support for an active Israeli-Palestinian peace process during the Bush Administration made her extremely unpopular among the hawkish neoconservatives now whispering in Romney’s ear. In fact, although both her text and her delivery were way above the surprisingly mediocre level shown by far too many of the Convention’s speakers, some might suspect that the decibel level of the crowd’s applause and the frequency of their standing ovations were at least partially motivated by a wish to repel persistent suspicions that this Republican crowd prefers its candidates both conservative and white, and not necessarily in that order.
As for Israel, it got its due on Wednesday in brief mentions by both Rice and in a low key address by 2008 candidate John McCain, and in somewhat greater detail in a promotional film that featured Romney’s recent meeting in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that drew applause from the crowd.
But it was the poignant film that featured former Presidents Bush, father and son, that may have provided the most food for thought for people who regard Israeli interests as paramount. The the two presidential generations, after all, diverged diametrically in their relations with Israel: Bush Sr, whose confrontation with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and AIPAC over loan guarantees for new immigrants more or less obliterated his Jewish vote, and Bush Jr, who is fondly remembered in Israel for his friendship and support and who is now the positive yardstick against which many Jews measure President Obama’s Israel-related deficiencies. Romney, most observers confess, could go one way or the other.
Seen from another angle, though, the Bushs were also notable for two important qualities that the Romney-Ryan ticket glaringly lack: Bush 41 for the decades of experience in foreign policy and national security that he brought with him to the Oval Office, and Bush 43, notwithstanding other faults he may have had, for his unfeigned color blindness and willingness to stand up for minorities such as Hispanics and American Muslims, even when it was not the most politically expedient thing to do.
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