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Paul Ryan's brilliant, scary, lying speech at the RNC in Tampa
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Ryan pulled off the big message of the convention: reaching out to middle class voters who are hurting economically.
Credit:Ruth Conniff

Paul Ryan sent the Wisconsin delegation on the floor of the Republican convention into paroxysms of joy.

Former governor and Senate candidate Tommy Thompson, who was standing beside me, kept squeezing my arm. "He got to you, didn't he?" Tommy said, leaning over to me after the speech. "Even journalists have a heart. ... If he got to you, he got to America!"

Ryan was a huge hit. He got off the best, funniest line of the whole convention, when he said 20-year-olds shouldn't have to live in their childhood bedrooms, staring at fading Obama posters and wondering when their lives were going to start.

He did, in fact, move people to tears with his tribute to his mom, choking up himself as he described her as his role model -- how she went back to school and started a new career after her husband's untimely death, transforming herself "from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman whose happiness wasn't just in the past."

But then there was the truly appalling part.

It was breathtaking when Ryan brought up the GM factory that closed in Janesville, and implied that it was all Obama's fault.

Not only did the plant close on George W. Bush's watch, but it did so after union workers pleaded with Ryan to support them and help save their jobs, to no avail.

Ryan's record on trade is a perfect recipe for the destruction of manufacturing in his hard-hit district.

He even opposed extending unemployment insurance, after his constituents lost 30% to 50% of the district's manufacturing jobs.

Yet Ryan -- a son of privilege and an enemy of labor -- painted himself as a working class hero: "A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that G.M. plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, 'I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another 100 years.' That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."

That's a pretty gutsy rhetorical move.

So was Ryan's rhetoric on the Medicare cuts for which he excoriates Obama: "The biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly," said Ryan, whose own budget plan calls for the destruction of Medicare.

The speech was well delivered, though. Ryan's youthfulness, his sense of purpose and determination, his declaration that he will win the debate on entitlement reform -- a clear challenge to Joe Biden that brought the delegates to their feet. It all went over very, very well.

The lines about how much cooler his musical taste is than Mitt Romney's were questionable.

It's interesting to hear Ryan paint Romney as an out-of-it dad -- does it help or hurt the ticket? Maybe a little of both, since it acknowledges the general feeling that Romney is lacking, but tries to move him into a respectable, paternal role.

Most of all, Ryan pulled off the big message of the convention: reaching out to middle class voters who are hurting economically and want to believe that the Republicans offer clear, disciplined leadership that will solve their problems. Of course the policies they propose spell economic disaster for all but the very, very rich.

The challenge the Democrats face is answering the legitimate criticism that they offer no coherent ideological alternative.

However nutty, Ryan's supply-side fundamentalism is easy to understand.

Worse, when he accuses Obama of praising the idea of entitlement reform but not having the courage of his convictions to do more, or of not pursuing policies that might save that GM plant (since both Republicans and Democrats supported the trade deals that have hollowed out American manufacturing) he scores points.

To answer Ryan, the Democrats will have to do more than extend unemployment insurance, coddle the banks and multinational corporations, and hope for better days.

They will have to make a fight on the role of government and unions and community itself.

Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive and a contributor to Isthmus. She is in Tampa covering the Republican National Convention.

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