1. My thoughts were overwhelmingly positive so I’ll start with the constructive criticism. It would have been better if Ryan had taken some time to explain Romney’s Ryan-Wyden-style Medicare reform proposal. It would have slowed the speech down a little, but in Ryan’s case, that is okay. Some of the strongest part of Ryan’s speech yesterday were the parts without applause lines where you could feel the crowd and the television audience getting sucked into what he was saying. Talking about the Medicare proposal isn’t really a risk, because people are going to hear about it anyway. There is no getting away from it. The question is whether they hear Obama’s allies attacking a distorted version of Ryan’s 201 plan or whether they hear about the current plan with its higher spending level, guaranteed benefit, and retention of Fee For Service Medicare. The more people hear about this plan, the more they will discount Obama team and media (but I repeat myself) distortions. We also should have heard about IPAB. It ties in with the economy. Do you expect the guy who invested in Solyndra and president over 40 + months of over 8% unemployment to responsibly manage centrally rationed cuts to Medicare?
2. So far I’ve conducted a focus group of one (yeah, I know it isn’t really a “group”). This fellow is older and his general orientation towards Republican candidates is contempt and mild hostility. His impression of Ryan was, “This guy is very smart.” This is the kind of older working-class white voter Republicans only got when they were winning gigantic landslides in the 1970s and 1980. That doesn’t mean that Romney-Ryan are going to get his vote, and even if they did, the demographics of the country are very different from 1984, but it is suggestive of the impression that Ryan makes on some populations of persuadables who are hard gets.
3. I strongly recommend you read Peter Lawler’s post on Ryan’s speech. It is especially important to look at this excerpt from Ryan:
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. Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life.
We have responsibilities, one to another we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.
Each of these great moral ideas is essential to democratic government to the rule of law, to life in a humane and decent society. They are the moral creed of our country, as powerful in our time, as on the day of Americas founding. They are self-evident and unchanging, and sometimes, even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government.
There is stuff to criticize in Ryan’s various policy proposals, but as long as people actually get to hear from him, it will be tough for Democrats to paint him as a heartless grandma killing ideological fanatic. The problem his critics have is that in style and substance, Ryan is a lot more like Michael Novak than Ayn Rand. Now the average person might not know who either of those people are, but, when they can sense the phoniness and/or hysteria when his critics attack him for wanting to destroy the welfare state or whatever.
3. Ryan (like Obama and Reagan) has a terrific affect for an ideological politician.
4. Ryan is very effective at explaining a reasonable vision of the welfare state. The stuff about him and his mom taking care of his grandmother with help from Medicare is important for what it tells us. He isn’t offering a post-welfare state world of rugged individualism. It is a world where we have a sustainable welfare state that neither crushes the economy under taxation nor displaces families and mediating institutions in which people have their most important relationships. That is an appealing point of view that can get majority support.
PS I would add that Ryan’s “moral creed of our country” is less libertarian than some interpretations of the Declaration. It is more of a built better than they knew moral creed.