WASHINGTON — Paul Ryan gave a cheering, on-its-feet crowd the kind of passionate political oratory it craved Friday as he branded President Barack Obama a weak, failed leader “skilled at striking heroic poses against imaginary adversaries.”
Ryan, the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate, told about 2,000 people at the Values Voter Summit that “nobody is better at rebuking nonexistent opinions. Barack Obama does this all the time, and in this campaign we are calling him on it.”
Such attacks on the president are hardly new for Ryan, who’s fulfilling the traditional, second-spot-on-the-ticket role of partisan lieutenant playing the kind of hardball politics that might look unseemly for someone who’s vying to be president.
A Wisconsin congressman who’s the chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, he has an advantage with the conservative crowd, which considers him a star for pushing for deep cuts in federal spending.
Ryan charged that some Obama policies pose “a threat and insult to every religious group” and that Israel is “treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the White House.”
The administration got into a dispute earlier this year with the Roman Catholic Church over federally mandated insurance coverage for birth control. On Israel, the campaign of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney thinks the White House hasn’t been forceful enough in attempting to keep Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check because of the threat Iran poses to the Jewish state.
Ryan also accused Obama of expanding government.
“He treats private enterprise as little more than a revenue source for government,” Ryan said. “He views government as the redistributor and allocator of opportunity."
The Obama campaign struck back quickly.
Ryan, spokesman Danny Kanner said, “unleashed a series of over-the-top, dishonest attacks against the president that once again reminded voters that he’s just not ready for prime time. In the not-too-distant past, Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan said they wanted a serious debate on substantive issues. We’re still waiting.”
The Values Voter Summit is an annual weekend gathering of social and religious conservatives who stress what they refer to as traditional values. It features a lineup of prominent conservative leaders and politicians.
Ryan knew his audience. In the exhibit hall near the Omni Shoreham Hotel ballroom where he spoke, conservative groups passed out red wristbands that said, “Marriage = 1 Man + 1 Woman,” while folks at the booth for Crossroads, an anti-abortion group, wore T-shirts with “Pro-Life” in huge letters.
Ryan’s warm-up speakers included House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who said, “This election is going to determine whether or not the very moral fabric of our country will be upheld or whether it will be torn apart.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., went after news accounts of the Obama administration’s handling of the crises this week in Libya and Egypt.
“So now you see this media doing absolutely everything they can to scramble to make sure that their guy doesn’t get the blame for what’s going down this week,” she said.
The crowd loved it and showed the kind of frenzy that Romney has had trouble creating among die-hard conservatives. People said they liked Romney, but Ryan got better notices.
"You have to choose the choices you have, and Romney is a good businessman," said Bob Fraley of Scottsdale, Ariz., the author of several religious works. Crossroads Director Jason Handcock said he was for the ticket “mainly because of Paul Ryan."
Handcock disagrees, for instance, with Romney’s support of abortion in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the woman’s life.
“You’re using one evil act to undo another,” he said.
But Ryan was instantly hailed as a hero, and he hit the points the crowd wanted to hear.
“In the days ahead, and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose,” he said. “Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome.”
He then turned to the economy, the cornerstone of the Romney-Ryan strategy.
"Lately he’s been trying out a new tactic," Ryan said. "It’s a classic Barack Obama straw man: If anyone dares to point out the facts of his record, why then, they’re just being negative and pessimistic about the country. The new straw man is people hoping for the decline of America."
Ryan ripped into what he called Obama’s embrace of big government.
"The president is given to lectures on all that we owe to government, as if anyone who opposes his reckless expansion of federal power is guilty of ingratitude and rank individualism," Ryan said.