Ryan Galvanizes Convention
Ryan Symbolizes Ideological And Cultural Divide

Analysis: The US electoral debate is about ideas but also about symbols. Class mobility.

Amiel Ungar ,

The Ryan bunch
The Ryan bunch

The two important speeches at the Republican national convention yesterday were delivered by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and vice presidential nominee, Representative Paul Ryan.

It was important for the GOP to showcase Condoleezza Rice , particularly as the race issue has become an overt theme in this year's campaign, from Joe Biden to Chris Matthews. It is no longer an undertone, but has become a defiant staple among liberal pundits to explain why Barack Obama is facing a tough election, when months ago the Republican contenders had been dismissed - including by Obama himself - as misfits from a reality TV show.

It was therefore important to hear Condoleezza Rice making the case for American exceptionalism and emphasizing American class mobility, rather than class warfare.

There should be no illusions that Rice can convince many in the Afro-American community to give Mitt Romney a chance. When Colin Powell was Secretary of State and Rice was National Security Advisor in the Bush administration, it did not weaken black allegiance to the Democratic Party, an allegiance that goes back to the administration of Franklin D Roosevelt.

However, the unfeigned and unscripted enthusiasm for Professor Rice at the Tampa convention will hopefully serve as an antidote to those hoping to capitalize on the race issue and portray the GOP as white supremacists.

There can be no doubt however that the featured attraction was vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. If Ryan was an unknown quantity outside the Beltway and outside Wisconsin, he has definitely elevated his position in American national politics as a result of last night's address. He promised the convention that the Republicans were eager to debate the Democrats -  and expected to win the debate. Ryan symbolizes that debate and this undoubtedly endeared him to the convention crowd.

Ryan's speaking style is deceiving; he is neither a tub thumper nor a silver- tongued orator, but although it was a speech before a live audience of over 20,000 people and an estimated 30 million television viewers, you had the sense of being engaged in a more intimate conversation, a sort of fireside chat. Last night it was effective.

Ryan kept emphasizing Wisconsin and spoke of his college days in Ohio; in other words, he is telling voters that he is a favorite son of the Midwest. Ohio in this election, as in 2000 and 2004, is a key battleground state, but if the Republicans managed to flip other midwestern states, Wisconsin and perhaps even Michigan to their column, their path to electoral victory becomes so much wider.

Paradoxically, Ryan brought something old and something new. As a youthful candidate, Republicans expect him to dent Obama's advantage among younger voters. Ryan attempted to portray Obama as a has-been who wished to sail on the winds of yesterday, while he disparaged the faded Obama posters in the bedrooms of unemployed college graduates compelled to live with their parents due to a lack of job opportunities.

There was, however, also something nostalgic about Ryan. With all his affection for the metal rock groups, he is a representative of small-town America and he continues to reside in the community where he was born.

While there is no physical resemblance between them, Paul Ryan almost seems to be a throwback to the Jimmy Stewart movies of small-town America coming to clean things up in Washington. Paul Ryan is anything but a rube and as a 7- term representative he knows his way around Washington, yet he evokes nostalgia for a more innocent and righteous America. This brand will compete with the more cosmopolitan urban brand of Barack Obama.

The contest will provide a debate between two ideologies, but it goes beyond that. The Republicans with Ryan are preaching revival as desirable and possible, while Democrats are saying that America and the world have changed and must move on from there.