Aug. 29, 2012
In his vice presidential acceptance address to the GOP delegates gathered at the St. Petersburg Times Forum, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan said that his musical playlists starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin. It was a good line and a very effective means of humorously highlighting his generational differences with GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who will address the convention Thursday.
While the rock-and-roll atmosphere for Ryan’s speech in Tampa was palpable, it was nowhere near as strong as it was in St. Paul for the 2008 GOP convention when then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin vocalized for the Republican crowd a newly personified, highly re-energized sense they were sure would carry them to an Election Day triumph. It didn’t, though, and her follow-up albums, so to speak, were disappointing.
Still, in rock and roll terms, Palin was without question, the main event that Wednesday night four years ago in St. Paul. Unfortunately for Ryan, he was overshadowed Wednesday in Tampa by what a concertgoer might call a “warm-up act.”
Instead of energizing the crowd the way Palin did, Ryan was playing to an already inspired audience. He did a decent job of keeping the mood high, but for all but the most partisan Republicans and Tea Partiers, it was obvious from Ryan’s first words that the night’s rhetorical highlight had come and gone.
The GOP faithful gathered in Tampa liked what Ryan had to say, much as the crowd in Minnesota four years back liked what Palin had to say. But across the nation, the electorate already had been delivered to a kind of rhetorical promised land by way of a tour de force speaking performance by Dr. Condoleezza Rice of Stanford, who – in what may come to be viewed through the lens of history as the biggest moment of the 2012 GOP convention – successfully redefined herself as not just a former Bush administration secretary of state but as a humanitarian educator with an altruistic nature. In doing so, she not only overshadowed a comparatively partisan speech by Ryan with an expansive, inclusionary speech, she may well have laid the groundwork for a future political run in her home state of California.
Despite telling NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that she was happy in Palo Alto and that her future was at Stanford and with her students, her soaring rhetoric stands out as the most inclusive and quintessentially American speech by a non-candidate since a young state senator named Barack Obama electrified Democrats and the nation in his 2004 keynote speech on behalf of the John Kerry-John Edwards ticket in Boston.
Kerry lost that election, but Obama emerged with both national recognition and a proven ability to inspire the masses through the power of his rhetoric. How well he has translated that ability into action as president is debatable, and the outcome of the 2012 contest is still unknown, but one thing is certain: Rice proved herself at least Obama’s equal in giving a speech that a wide swath of the electorate can watch and not feel like the speaker was out to get them.
In short, Rice sounded like an American, with the best interests of the American people and her country at heart. Ryan, for all his rock-and-roll rhetoric, sounded like just another young Republican with a fresh face, wearing trousers this time instead of a skirt, singing the same old tunes we heard four years ago. A few of the lyrics and the stage set may have changed, but for Ryan and the GOP, the song remains the same.
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Punditty watches RNC convention coverage on MSNBC.
Relive the magic of Sarah Palin’s 2008 VP acceptance speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62wyVtaAI
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