In one brief line in last night’s acceptance speech, Paul Ryan made himself the Republicans’ star witness in the case against Barack Obama.
"None of us have to settle for the best this administration offers – a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us."
In a speech that was full of humility, yet so consequential that it eclipsed those of Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Ryan also revived the Jack Kemp wing of the Republican Party.
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One of Ryan’s early mentors, Jack Kemp never tired of making the connection between freedom, a small government, and economic success. Paul Ryan’s methodical dissection of Barack Obama’s assaults on the freedom of individual Americans and the disaster of Obamanomics proved him to be a worthy inheritor of Kemp’s mantle.
In this, Ryan also began to make good on my observation that his selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate made the Republicans the Party of the future.
Paul Ryan’s emphasis on the future, while so effectively indicting the current President’s economic policies and lack of leadership, did not bode well for Obama’s campaign strategy of personal attacks and excuses.
Ryan’s acceptance speech also brought something that has been strangely lacking in the Republican effort so far: a sense of urgency about that future.
“Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation’s economic problems. And I’m going to level with you: We don’t have that much time. But if we are serious, and smart, and we lead, we can do this,” said Ryan.
However, a campaign based on fear of the future alone is unlikely to succeed. Jack Kemp understood this and so does Paul Ryan.
Toward the end of his remarks, Ryan said, “I learned a good deal about economics, and about America, from the author of the Reagan tax reforms – the great Jack Kemp. What gave Jack that incredible enthusiasm was his belief in the possibilities of free people, in the power of free enterprise and strong communities to overcome poverty and despair. We need that same optimism right now.”
The Kemp-like, “We can do this,” may prove to be the Romney/Ryan ticket’s new campaign slogan.
Ryan also showed himself to be the inheritor of Jack Kemp’s brand of Republican populism, as he put himself squarely on the side of the Main Street America that has borne the brunt of today’s economic woes while cronyism protected the big players of the Wall Street/Washington axis with trillions in federal stimulus spending and government bailouts.
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Ryan’s commitment that a Romney/Ryan administration would hold federal government spending to its historic norm of 20% of GDP -- or less -- was also a new and very consequential commitment from a Romney campaign that has been short on commitments and specifics to-date.
While Washington’s pundit class may see that as a throwaway line in a campaign speech, those, in both Parties who have become addicted to the Obama-level of federal spending should consider themselves on notice.
Two of Ryan’s closest collaborators in Congress, Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Mike Pence, now running for Governor of Indiana, had a bill for a constitutional amendment to do just that (hold spending to 20% or less), and a federal budget reduced to that level would have no trouble passing a Tea Party influenced House of Representatives -- if it ever got to the Floor.
While Jack Kemp made economics and tax policy his signature issues, he never shied away from talking about the conservative social agenda and making the tie between a successful society and a moral society.
In this, Ryan also proved himself to be Kemp’s worthy successor as he gave one of the few direct embraces to the right to life heard at this year’s GOP Convention.
In rejecting a society “where everything is free except us,” and in his optimism about the future -- if Americans make the choice to join him -- Paul Ryan has pointed the GOP and the Romney campaign in a new, and decidedly Jack Kemp-style, conservative direction.
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