As a reporter in Washington, one of the strange things that happens sometimes is that the guy you saw hanging around, taking the subway beneath the Capitol from his office to the floor to cast a vote – the guy you grabbed as he walked down a hall to ask him a few questions about some bill or other – suddenly becomes a major figure on the national and world stage.
Tall, a little geeky, and youthful, Paul Ryan is one of those members of Congress you’d find around the Capitol – accessible, genial, eager to explain his various proposals – whom you’d never think twice about saying hello to.
He soon rose, though, from a bright young conservative barely tolerated by the hoary GOP leadership to someone who was leading the GOP on fiscal issues from his relatively obscure – to the country, not to those of us who cover Washington – position as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
But for most folks, he was still mainly a nobody, and to us, in many ways, just another ambitious young politician, albeit smarter than most.
Even when he was introduced to the country just under three weeks ago by Mitt Romney in Norfolk, Virginia, he looked a little bit like Robin, The Boy Wonder, to Romney’s Batman. It wasn’t the “Gosh, thanks dad” feeling you got from Dan Quayle when George H.W. Bush unveiled him in 1988. Robin is a fighter in his own right. But it was still a little bit hard, at least for me, to imagine Ryan as vice president or president.
Not after last night.
What Ryan did Wednesday evening, during a moment that entails more pressure than nearly any other in American politics – the vice presidential self-introduction to the country – was make clear to the nation that he is ready for the big time, is ready to take on President Obama and Vice President Biden, and prepared to enter the vice president’s office in the West Wing and begin comfortably working there his first day on the job.
What’s more, with his sense of purpose, he showed he’ll have no trouble or hesitation ambling down the hall to the Oval Office to make sure whatever’s coming out of there has his ideas written all over it.
Confident, comfortable, smart, forceful and even funny, Ryan delivered a fast ball over the plate that nearly put a hole in the catcher’s glove. It’s a dangerous thing to exalt a Republican politician as Reaganesque, as I have already done with respect to Ryan. But last night he confirmed it.
Ryan’s remarks, imbued with principles in a way that only those profoundly familiar with conservative thought can achieve, and delivered with an sense of optimism about the future and disappointment in his opponents – as opposed to harsh anger – was indeed Reagan-like.
Ryan is not in Reagan’s league as a speaker, and for the first half of the speech he was a little flat. But he rose to a crescendo – and rose to the occasion – in a manner that transported the convention hall into a modest state of delirium.
Finally, a candidate for national office unafraid to talk about real issues and respectful enough of the American people to deliver to them the harsh facts about our national predicament. Finally, a messenger unafraid of being shot.
What was most Reaganesque was Ryan’s understanding that a Republican candidate can sell the country conservative values, and voters will make the purchase and even pay a premium.
Voters, to paraphrase Chris Chistie’s speech Tuesday night, want to be respected as much as they want to be loved.
Obama is selling love – sugary sweets filled with electric vehicles, endless spending on entitlements, and money taken from the rich.
Ryan, with his empathetic manner and his commitment to telling voters the truth about what’s wrong and what needs to be done about it, is offering both love and respect.
And that’s Reagenesque.