Welcome once again to my musings and snap judgments which I jot down right after watching the Republican National Convention speeches, and before I read what the rest of the online universe has to say. This way, my opinions might be wildly out of sync with everyone else, but at least you'll know they're not influenced by others. My Day One impressions were fairly close to what others are saying, so make of that whatever you will.
Today I sat through almost four hours of convention-watching, although I apparently missed some sort of Ron Paul video at the start, which would have been a lot more interesting than seeing Mitch McConnell. For some reason, I always turn on the convention when someone named "McConnell" is speaking, which was a little eerie when I noticed it.
The audience for McConnell seemed to be either asleep or comatose. Or perhaps working off those first-day hangovers, who knows? Mitch did get in one good line about "left-wing fever swamps" but even this failed to rouse the crowd. McConnell always seems to me to be auditioning for the part of "The Owl" in a elementary school play, but maybe that's just his bad taste in glasses, I don't know (Note: I wear glasses myself, so this isn't any sort of "four-eyes" putdown, it's just those frames look wrong on his face, that's all).
Rand Paul stormed on to the stage, and it seemed that while the first day of the convention was gauzy and light, today will be attack doggery from one end to the other. Paul begins this by tossing bucketloads of red meat out to the crowd, which at least woke them up a bit from their McConnell-induced snooze. I also see that we're going to get more of the "I did build that!" thing today (seemed kind of absent yesterday). Paul got heavily into the whole Horatio Alger thing (with, inexplicably, pirates and castaways thrown in for good measure), while at the same time dialing up the snark "to eleven," as they say. The crowd (or perhaps just the Ron Paulites, it was hard to tell) ate this performance up.
Then we got a family portrait video of the Bushes, for some strange reason. Lots of tinkly piano music, and Dubya on his best behavior under the steely eye of Barbara. High on production values, low on content. As designed, no doubt.
Oh, I guess this is the "has beens" part of the show, as John McCain takes the stage. We'd like to take a moment to wish McCain a happy 76th birthday! That has got to be the coolest birthday present in the world -- getting to speak to a convention and a national audience. Love the man or hate him, you've got to admit that's a better birthday than you've ever had, right?
McCain started on a graceful, no-sour-grapes sort of note, but by the end of the speech, he was (as usual) trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored (so to speak). The crowd, though, was only mildly interested, even at the fiery bits. McCain started a theme others would hit throughout the night, criticizing "leading from behind," but when he really got going he showed his full bitterness at not being the man in control of the American military for the past four years. The clouds of crankiness parted only once during the latter half of his speech, as he bizarrely intimated "love can conquer hate" which was a jarring non sequitur to the rest of his militarism.
I guess the people in the arena got a pro-Israel video next, but this was cut by the channel I was watching. We got a few minor folks including some attorney generals and John Thune, but I mostly watched the evening news at this point to see what the hurricane was up to.
When I returned to convention-watching, Rob Portman was being introduced. I guess it is also "veep has-been" night as well. Portman, to his credit, was the first guy I've seen who opened with a joke. He was actually a lot more lively than I'd been led to believe. Having never seen the man speak, I only knew him as "Bush's budget director" and budget directors are usually pretty dry and retiring guys. Portman was definitely not this, however. He was the first speaker I saw who genuinely got the audience to cheer loudly. His presentation was one giant slab of red meat, and it looks like the gloves which were on last night (where Obama's name was barely mentioned) have come off for the evening.
After having seen Portman speak, I can say that he would probably have made a good attack dog as a veep choice, much to my surprise. He not only got the crowd energized, he led them in several chants, such as "No more years!" (for Obama). His feistiness definitely woke the crowd in the arena up for the rest of the evening.
Inexplicably, however, this was followed up by "some guy from Ohio" who really was out of his depth. He was one big yawn from start to finish, and the crowd could be seen streaming out the exits and generally ignoring him.
Next up was Tim Pawlenty. He started out with a good joke -- "Welcome to Barack Obama's retirement party!" but apparently he was unaware that a little humor sometimes goes a long way. For the first half of his speech, we were treated to the Tim Pawlenty (Attempt At) Comedy Hour. Or at least, it felt that long. Pawlenty seemed determined to lay to rest all those rumors that he was duller than dry toast, and his overcompensation was almost painful to watch. After his first joke, most of the rest of them fell flat, as he tried to go for Obama's jugular. The audience seemed supportive at times, and dismissive at other points. When Pawlenty changed gears and tried to get serious about the middle class, he completely lost most of the crowd.
Next on the program was Mike Huckabee's imitation of Pat Buchanan. Now, when Huckabee ran for the office himself, he was a lot more cheerful, but then I haven't seen any of Huckabee since he wandered off to Fox News (or "the Republican politician's retirement home in the sky"). Maybe the fact that the nausea-inducing "standing on board a heaving ship in bad seas" moving background returned behind the Huckster. Huckabee, as with all the other has-beens tonight, flung the red meat to the troops with great abandon. He had one line that was stunningly sweeping, but he delivered it too fast for me to write it down. He was talking about Democrats and ended with "tax-hiking party" and I really should look the whole quote up later, because it was pretty good.
Huckabee's biggest hand came when he gave a nod to Ann Romney's speech. Towards the end, Huckabee wandered through religious themes and sounded almost as bitter as McCain at times. Inexplicably, Bono of U2 was mentioned. Huckabee's speech felt like it went on about ten minutes too long, though.
This got us to the two big speakers of the night. Condi Rice took the stage, and was the first speaker in the convention who blew my socks off. I mean, the speech itself was about what you'd expect -- America will go to Hell in a handbasket if Obama gets a second term, that sort of thing -- but her delivery was a real wowzer. Condi's quite obviously been spending some time on the speaking circuit, and the practice shows. She is confident (that quaver in her voice is all but gone), she is forceful, she knows exactly how to pace the speech, and she held the audience in the palm of her hand for almost the entire speech. Her arguments at times were stupefyingly anti-Obama (Obama is more dangerous to America than China, for instance), but on the whole her speech was a very high-level intellectual firebrandism that is rarely seen from Republicans these days.
By the end of the speech, I was thinking "Mitt picked the wrong running mate." The biggest applause of the speech, in fact, was when Condi (speaking of her own life story) said she could grow up "to be president of the United States... if she wanted to be." The crowd went berserk. This woman would have made a formidable vice presidential candidate, that is for sure.
Paul Ryan finally took the stage, but I do have to admit by this point my brain was almost numb with all the partisan rhetoric. Ryan gave a pretty good speech, but after Condi it seemed like a step down, somehow. Maybe that was my own exhaustion speaking, I'm not sure.
Ryan, to make up for Chris Christie's self-centered speech, launched immediately into why Mitt Romney would make such a swell president. Ryan's speech was well-delivered, much better (in fact) than his many appearances on cable television as an interview subject. Ryan gives an excellent interview, but he does talk fast -- and tonight, his pace was much slower and much easier for the crowd to follow. Ryan is a very good politician, and you can tell that no matter what happens, he sees himself running for the top spot on the ticket a few years down the road.
As for the content of his speech, the unemployment line across the country was a pretty good metaphor, I have to admit. Any time the crowd got bored, Ryan just tossed out some anti-Obamacare and it cheered them right back up again. Ryan uttered an absolute lie (while artfully dancing his language around the truth) about a plant closure in his town that happened before Obama even took office which didn't stop Ryan from blaming it on Obama.
At some point a protester began whooping it up in the stands, but while I was intrigued at the response (someone put up a large sheet of fabric to block the view), it didn't turn out to be a streaker or anything. Oh well, one can dream. Nothing like a streaker or two to liven up a convention, right?
Ryan's attack doggery was the doggiest of the night. He tossed down the gauntlet to the Obama team on Medicare, saying bluntly "We will win this debate!" He tried poetry at times, which fell flat for me (describing Obama as "a ship trying to sail on yesterday's wind"), but with all the red meat showered on the crowd you'd have thought it was a gathering of Atkins Diet enthusiasts or something.
The crowd couldn't get enough.
While, to my admittedly biased ear, Ryan seemed to be doing nothing more than platituding up a storm, I was (to put it mildly) not exactly the target audience for such a speech. Ryan is young, he gave a great speech all around, and he's obviously got his sights set on the highest peaks in politics. This won't be the last we'll be hearing from him, no matter who wins this November.
Personally, I was impressed with the wordsmithing that went into the phrase (describing the dim Obama vision for the future) "the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners" -- that really takes me back to Cold War rhetoric, there. Ah, nostalgia. I also liked his nods to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, but that's just showing my own age, I suppose.
All around, as I said, Day Two was the Day Of The Attack Dog. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? The big guns have yet to fire in this GOP-fest, so join me at my site tomorrow night after all the shouting's done. I'm going off to see what others thought of this evening, myself.
-- Chris Weigant
Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant