Dispatches From the Republican National Convention

Paul Ryan’s Mother Was the Most Powerful Part of That Speech
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 30 2012 1:19 PM

Dispatches From the Republican National Convention


It was a dishonest speech. But the part about Paul Ryan’s mother was powerful.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Yes, Paul Ryan was an attack dog last night. He also matched good writing and delivery with dishonesty and hypocrisy. Points for style not substance. 

I know all of that. But I still felt a swell of affection for Ryan when he got to the part of his speech about his mother. "My mother is my role model," he said, describing how she started her own business after being widowed at 50, and magicking himself, in my heart, into a blue-eyed teenager running for class president. The camera panned to 78-year-old Betty Douglas radiating pride and well-earned accomplishment back at her son. At her side, two little girls, her granddaughters I think, smiled up at her, and the multigenerational tableau did its work, melting me in a way that the Romney clan’s perfection never does. 

John pointed out that Ann Romney's case for Mitt was based on assertions, not stories to remember and pass along. The details she did offer—pasta and tuna fish in their student days—were skimpy and manufactured (especially when you learn they were living off of proceeds from stock Mitt's dad gave him). As I argued earlier this week, it's just not credible for the Romneys to sell themselves as relatable. Paul and his mom, though, can do it. They have the death of his father when Paul was in high school, so last night's details about the early bus she took to work were memorable. 

The Daily Beast has a nice catalog of how other candidates, including John McCain and Barack Obama, have deployed their love for their mothers for narrative gain. The comparison to the president is most apt: his stories about his mother worrying over the hospital bills and relying on food stamps when he was a child have stuck with us. 

In the light of morning, my glow of warmth for Ryan’s love for his mother has cooled to bafflement over how he can possibly say that his budget will help other people in their time of need. Fully 62 percent of the cuts he proposes come out of programs for the poor, as Jonathan Cohn points out an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows. This is where supply-side conservatives lose me. They just don't have evidence their tax cuts will produce gains up and down the income ladder. All the other Betty Douglases out there will be better off if her son is never (vice) president. 

Emily Bazelon was a Slate senior editor from 2005 to 2014. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.