Paul Ryan on Wednesday stirred the Republican National Convention with an energetic appeal as the vanguard of a new generation unafraid to offer a sharp contrast to President Barack Obama while taking politically risky steps to reshape the government.
“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 – and I know that we are ready,” he told the convention as red, white and blue Romney-Ryan signs flooded the hall.
“We will not duck the tough issues – we will lead. We will not spend four years blaming others – we will take responsibility. We will not try to replace our founding principles, we will reapply our founding principles,” he said as he accepted the nomination as Mitt Romney’s running mate.
The 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman triggered the most emotional, longest-lasting cheers of the week. Until him, the convention had been slow to erupt in long, appreciative cheers, even for Ann Romney on Tuesday night. But Ryan is immensely popular within the party, and his address was designed not only to introduce the seven-term lawmaker to the American public, but to energize the many delegates who have only reluctantly embraced Romney.
“The Ryan pick has helped bring in conservatives,” said Justin Machacek, a faith-based film producer in Fort Worth, Texas, and a convention delegate.
Wayne King, vice chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, found “Ryan brings an element of enthusiasm Mitt Romney’s campaign was missing.”
Ryan on Wednesday offered a blend of his personal story, introducing his wife and children. “My mom is my role model,” he said as his beaming mother was shown on the big TV screens. He also played the traditional role of vice presidential candidates, providing sharp, pointed attacks on the ticket’s foes.
“I’ve never seen opponents so silent about their record, and so desperate to keep their power,” he said of Obama. The Obama attack ads, he said, are the president “just throwing away money – and he’s pretty experienced at that.”
He cited the bipartisan deficit reduction commission, recalling, “They came back with an urgent report. (Obama) thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.” Ryan voted against that plan.
When Republicans offered ideas to curb runaway deficits, he said, the president did “nothing, nothing except to dodge and demagog the issue.”
Ryan avoided details of his controversial budget blueprint, saying only, “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.”
He was more specific Wednesday in his wish that the 2010 federal health care law be scrapped.
“Obamacare comes to more than 2,000 pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees and fines that have no place in a free country,” he said. “The president has declared that the debate over government-controlled health care is over. That will come as news to the millions of Americans who will elect Mitt Romney so we can repeal Obamacare.”
He blasted the Obama administration for “$716 billion, funneled out of Medicare,” though those savings are subject to the recommendations of an independent panel and would need legislative and presidential approval. And some of those savings will help pay for other types of senior care and reducing the federal debt.
Ryan would change how seniors get care. Those turning 65 after 2023 would get federal help to buy coverage from private plans or traditional Medicare.
“Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours,” Ryan said. Democrats contend that under Ryan’s proposal seniors would face increase health care costs they’ll have trouble affording.
Ryan got his most rousing applause when he turned to the younger generation that once embraced Obama so fervently.
“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,” Ryan said.
He recalled the 2009 economic stimulus. “It was President Obama’s first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost $831 billion – the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government,” Ryan said. “It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.” Republicans often cite the aid to Solyndra, a now-defunct solar panel firm, as a prime example of irresponsible government spending.
Ryan’s speech was the coda to a night devoted to the theme of “We Can Change It.” Before Ryan, though, the evening’s premier events recalled the party’s past.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a key adviser on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, were featured speakers.
Rice offered tough criticisms of the Obama administration, insisting peace through strength is vital. Her tone was gentle, but her urgings had bite.
“I know there is a weariness,” she said, but added, “We do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind.”
Rice turned to domestic issues, recalling her upbringing in the Jim Crow South and how she grew up to be secretary of state – a reminder that drew a huge ovation from the crowd.
“Yes, America has a way of making the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect,” she said, but “it took leadership” to make change, leadership of the sort Romney and Ryan can bring.
McCain was the star of this show four years ago. “I had hopes once of addressing you under different circumstances,” he said with a grin. McCain was one of the few speakers to discuss national security, criticizing the Obama administration’s plan for ending American military involvement in Afghanistan.
Delegates also watched a video recalling the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Both are skipping the convention. The elder Bush is in failing health. The younger Bush’s presidency remains a subject Republicans would rather not discuss. Delegates rarely invoked the younger Bush’s name on the convention floor. One reason: a debt clocks loom over the convention hall showing the growing national debt, some of which was accumulated on Bush’s watch.
Some delegates loyal to Rep. Ron Paul of Texas remained unenthusiastic about the Romney-Ryan ticket. Their candidate did not address the convention but was instead featured in a video. His son Rand, a Kentucky senator, addressed the delegates Wednesday.
Rand Paul mentioned Romney only once, after a lively speech. “The great and abiding lesson of American history, particularly the Cold War, is that the engine of capitalism – the individual – is mightier than any collective,” he said.
Obama was in Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday, campaigning for a final time before Romney goes before a national audience at the Republican convention Thursday.
He told a mostly college-age crowd not to let the negativity of the campaigns turn them off.
“There are some folks getting sick of politics, sometimes campaigns seem meaner and smaller,” he said, adding that Republicans will tell them, “You were naive last time when you had all that hope and change stuff.”
“What they’re hoping, even if you don’t vote for them . . . they do hope you get so discouraged that you just stay home,’’ he said. “That’s what they’re banking on.”
Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed from Charlottesville, Va.