TAMPA—Except for the guy driving around near the Tampa Times Forum Wednesday night with a stuffed dog in a cage in the roof of his car, most everyone in the vicinity of the Republican National Convention was bowled over by vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's speech to the delegates.
In his remarks, Ryan telegraphed the fall strategy for the GOP ticket. President Barack Obama and the Democrats can run against a "do nothing Congress" all they want. The Republicans are going after a "do nothing president."
"By his own decisions President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined," Ryan said. "He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing."
Then, stepping up the criticism, Ryan continued, "Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing—nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue. So here we are, $16 trillion in debt and still he does nothing. In Europe, massive debts have put entire governments at risk of collapse, and still he does nothing."
It's a powerfully argument, all the more so because unemployment has been north of 8 percent for more than 42 straight months. This is in sharp contrast to what Obama promised in 2009, when a Democratic Congress gave him an economic stimulus package that included everything he asked for and more. At that time he promised 600,000 jobs would be created by the end of the summer. And, for a while, he stood by his promise. "President Barack Obama assured the nation his recovery plan was on track Monday, scrambling to calm Americans unnerved by unemployment rates still persistently rising nearly four months after he signed the biggest economic stimulus in history," the liberal Huffington Post wrote in June 2009.
Those rates continued to rise for many months. By some estimates, nearly 15 percent of the U.S. workforce—23 million people—is unemployed, underemployed, or has stopped looking for work entirely because there just aren't any jobs out there—a point Ryan powerful drove home while taking about a shuttered General Motors plant in his own hometown.
"President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory," Ryan told the delegates.
"A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM 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 hundred 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 today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
Maybe liberal defenders of the president have tried to neutralize that message by suggesting the plant actually closed during the Bush years. This is merely misdirection—and an inaccurate one at that for "The Janesville plant," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last September, "was idled in 2009 after it completed production of medium-duty trucks."
Fancy slogans like "Hope" and "Change," Ryan seemed to say, are no longer a substitute for real action, action on jobs and the economy. The Republican House of Representatives, where Ryan serves as chairman of the Budget Committee, has passed more than 30 jobs creation bills over the last two years. All have died in a Senate controlled by the president's party—which has also failed to produce a budget for the last three years. Truth be told, it's not hard to figure out who's really been doing "nothing."