The Low Stakes of Paul Ryan's Big Speech

Vice presidential speeches are designed to be unmemorable and Ryan's address tonight is likely to be the same.

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TAMPA—Paul Ryan has cultivated a (hollow) reputation for being careful with the people's money. When he delivers his acceptance speech tonight, however, he'll be playing with house money. While the speech is in one sense a high stakes introduction to the national spotlight, the fact is that in the grand scheme of things his address is unlikely to amount to much.

Ryan faces an incredibly low bar tonight because vice presidential acceptance addresses just don't make a difference. When I wrote a story last week on the 11 most memorable convention speeches, only one vice presidential acceptance address even came up as a possibility: Sarah Palin's four years ago. Palin, announced only days before the start of the Republican convention, was still an unknown figure which only amplified the electricity she charged up the crowd. Of course that was Palin's high point, before she proved incapable of answering softball questions about which newspapers she read.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Sarah Palin.]

Beyond that it's pretty slim pickings. Al Gore's in 1992 was pretty good—and not just because it was the first convention I attended as an adult* and my father contributed a few lines to it—but it didn't endure beyond the moment. And as Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton notes, vice presidential acceptance speeches are, in a way, "unmemorable by design. The last thing a VP nominee wants to do is outshine the presidential nominee."

*At only a few weeks old, I was, I suspect, the youngest person at the 1972 Democratic convention.

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