Last night, Paul Ryan was supposed to jolt the system of the Republican Party full of youthful energy. And on the surface, I suppose, that's what he did. After all, he talked about listening to AC/DC and Zeppelin, and who better to exemplify the hep now-ness of the Republican Party than a band that was formed in 1973 and a band that has been around in various incarnations for almost fifty years? It's impossible to ignore the fact that Ryan's public speaking skills are nowhere near that of Sarah Palin's. He is not a master of rhetoric. He sounds like the kid in the oatmeal commercials, all wholesome aw-shucks voice and exaggerated I-told-you-so finger-wagging.
It's a good thing his voice is naturally wholesome, because he lies all the time.When he's not lying, he's "merely" obfuscating the truth. He accuses Obama of blaming everything on George W. Bush (without mentioning George W. Bush's name, because that would remind people of the ineffectual nature of Bush's policies and the fact that Ryan voted in lockstep with Bush for eight solid years) and then he accuses Obama of allowing a GM plant to go out of business when in fact that plant closed during Bush's time in office. He mocked the stimulus when he in fact requested stimulus money for his home district and then denied requesting stimulus money for his home district. There are many more lies; they've been well-documented in the time since his speech. (He did do a the traditional vice presidential job of attacking the opposition mercilessly. He might have been too good at it, in fact: There was a point during Ryan's speech when he was talking about the national debt under President Obama when a man in the hall—somewhere near the top back, shouted something that sounded like "Kill him!" I don't know if that's what he said; maybe he was saying "bill him?" I didn't hear any reaction to the cry, but I swear that's what I heard.)
Ryan's speech wasn't even the highlight of the evening.
The real star was Condoleezza Rice, who gave a biographical speech in a weird, Shatnerian cadence that almost definitely foreshadowed some major political race in her very near future. Rice seemed to be suggesting a kinder, gentler Republican Party on domestic issues—her comments on schools had a tinge of vouchers and anti-union sentiment, but she made sure to suggest that ZIP codes shouldn't determine how you do in life, which is a borderline treasonous statement to make in those quarters, and she sounded positively weak on immigration when compared to everyone else in the room. But the room still ate it up. Nobody noticed that she barely mentioned the fact that she served under President Bush, and that her only experience is with foreign policy. The audience applauded, they stood up and cheered, they generally lost their shit. After the crowds left the hall, nobody was talking about Ryan and everyone was talking about Rice. "She didn't even use a teleprompter," a man next to me said, with wonder in his voice. (She had the whole speech written out in front of her on paper, but I guess that doesn't count somehow?)
And Susana Martinez, too, offered up a different face to the Republican Party than most are used to seeing. Sure, she threw in some red meat—her comment that she owned a Smith & Wesson had the Texas delegation whipping their hats around in ecstasy—but she made the Republican Party actually sound kind of approachable. In fact, every noteworthy speech delivered at the convention thus far has been given by a minority woman. The rest of the show was dismal. Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman both demonstrated why they were passed over for vice presidential picks with their awkward speeches. Mike Huckabee delivered a spiritless oratory that either belied his lack of enthusiasm for politics in general, or for Mitt Romney in particular.
The most painful moment was musical. It was when former Damn Yankees frontman Jack Blades performed an original, hair-metal-lite song. He pranced all over the stage like the washed-up rock "star" he is, trying to coax the crowd into a sexual frenzy and only serving to annoy them with his generic, screeching rock. It was the bookend to Ryan's later AC/DC-to-Zeppelin remark, and a symbol for the whole show: An older man trying to act like he still has what appealed to people in the first place, trying to pretend that somehow, he's still got it, when really everyone just wants him to get off the stage so they can get on with their lives.