By Russell Berman and Erik Wasson - 08/30/12 03:33 AM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday night electrified the Republican Party with a speech that combined lacerating attacks on President Obama with homespun values and a tribute to GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
In a 35-minute address that drew thunderous applause from Republican delegates, Ryan condemned the Obama presidency and presented an optimistic vision of the future under Romney’s leadership.
The core theme of the speech amounted to four words: "We can do this."
“Our nominee is sure ready,” the vice-presidential nominee said. “His whole life has prepared him for this moment — to meet serious challenges in a serious way, without excuses and idle words. After four years of getting the run-around, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Gov. Mitt Romney.”
The seven-term lawmaker focused much of his address on Obama, mentioning the president's name 16 times and Romney on a dozen occasions. He said Obama promised to deliver change, but had failed after four years.
Ryan’s father died when he was a teenager, and when he saluted his mother on Wednesday night, he had to wipe tears from his eyes.
Representing a new generation of Republican leaders, Ryan spoke directly to younger Americans struggling to get a job. “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life,” he said to cheers.
In a sign of the new contours of the campaign, Ryan devoted a chunk of his critique of the president’s healthcare reform law. Yet, he didn't home in on its insurance mandate or its new taxes, but its $716 billion cut from Medicare. Ryan's budget also counts the same Medicare reductions as deficit savings, a fact pointed out by Democrats. Romney has pledged to restore those cuts.
The Wisconsin Republican did not delve into the details of his own budget plan, and lambasted Obama for rejecting a bipartisan deficit commission report commonly referred to as Bowles-Simpson. Ryan failed to mention he voted against that proposal and instead paid tribute to the popular entitlement program.
“Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it,” Ryan said. “A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.”
“So our opponents can consider themselves on notice,” he continued. “In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the left isn’t going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate,” Ryan said to a loud standing ovation.
Ryan’s speech amounted to extended and detailed attack on the Obama record. He acknowledged that the president took office during “very tough times,” but added that “the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.”
“So here’s the question: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?” Ryan said.
He characterized the Obama presidency as tired and stale. “It all started off with stirring speeches, Greek columns, the thrill of something new,” Ryan said. “Now all that’s left is a presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.”
Drawing the delegates in the Tampa Bay Times Forum to their feet, he continued: “Ladies and gentlemen, these past four years we have suffered no shortage of words in the White House. What’s missing is leadership in the White House.”
While better known nationally than former Gov. Sarah Palin (Alaska) was in 2008, Ryan remains a celebrity mostly to Republican Party activists and Washington insiders. That made his Wednesday speech a crucial introduction to a prime-time network television audience. An aide said speechwriters for the Romney campaign spent a week with Ryan on the trail to learn his cadences before starting on the speech.
Ryan emphasized the differences between himself and Romney, who come from different generations and religious backgrounds. Ryan even poked fun at Romney’s stiff image by contrasting their tastes in music.
“There are the songs on his iPod, which I’ve heard on the campaign bus and on many hotel elevators,” Ryan joked. “He actually urged me to play some of these songs at campaign rallies. I said, ‘I hope it’s not a deal-breaker Mitt, but my playlist starts with AC/DC, and ends with Zeppelin.’”
But Ryan said he and Romney are not different in “any of the things that matter.”
He also sought to reassure those put off by Romney’s Mormon faith.
“Mitt and I also go to different churches. But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example. And I’ve been watching that example,” Ryan said.
“Our different faiths come together in the same moral creed. We believe that in every life there is goodness; for every person, there is hope.”
Cameras flashed throughout the hall as Ryan entered to a rousing standing ovation. When he concluded, he embraced his wife, Janna, and swept his sons into a tight embrace on the stage.
GOP legislators and delegates in Tampa have said they view Ryan’s selection as an assurance that Romney would govern as a bold conservative willing to confront directly the nation’s fiscal crisis.
His address included bold pledges for a Romney administration and more personal economic lessons he learned from his family.
“My dad used to say to me: ‘Son. You have a choice: You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution.’ The present administration has made its choices. And Mitt Romney and I have made ours,” Ryan said in the climactic lines of his address, which prompted a deafening ovation inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “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.”
— Updated at 11:53 p.m.