After a slow start, Rep. Paul Ryan hit his stride and delivered an electrifying speech that presented a stark contrast between President Obama—“the first president to create more excuses than jobs”—and his Republican challengers, who have a sense of urgency and economic literacy that the president so clearly lacks.

“We can do this,” Ryan said and, because he is so fluid with numbers, he is believable, even if many people have given up on the hope of recovery and come to accept economic stagnation as the new normal. It has been said that, while the public knows that President Obama has failed, it hasn’t made up its mind to hire a new guy. Ryan, who made a good case for Romney-Ryan, also argued that it is folly to stick with the current team in hopes that they will accomplish in the next four years what they signally failed to do in the last four: 

So here’s the question: Without a change in leadership, why would the next four years be any different from the last four years?

The first troubling sign came with the stimulus.  It was President Obama’s first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule.  It cost $831 billion – the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government.

It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs, and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.  

What did the taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus?  More debt.  That money wasn’t just spent and wasted – it was borrowed, spent, and wasted.  

 In four paragraphs, Ryan summarized the domestic policy of the last three-plus years: borrow, spend, waste.  Avik Roy had a good piece on the speech in Forbes. Roy notes that progressives are “up in arms” over the speech (a good sign) and claiming that Ryan sprinkled it with lies. They are particularly apoplectic over Ryan’s noting that Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare.

Roy responds:

Here are the facts. It’s true that Ryan’s budgets in 2011 and 2012 preserved Obamacare’s cuts to Medicare. However, there is a huge difference between cutting Medicare by $716 billion to fund $1.9 trillion in new health spending, as Obamacare did, and cutting Medicare by $716 billion to shore up the solvency of the Medicare program itself, as the Ryan budget sought to do.

Secondly, the Romney Medicare plan fully repeals Obamacare, including the $716 billion in Medicare cuts.

Roy goes through the charges one by one.

Ryan wasn’t the only star last night. New Mexico Governor Susan Martinez was terrific and she had another of those “we built it” stories that showed that America has always been a place of opportunity (her parents started a security firm and it grew from 18-year-old Susan as the lone guard of church bingo game parking lots to more than a hundred employees). One note: the biographical can become sentimental and beside the point in a political setting; but the GOP used these stories to make a point, not just about the speaker, but about the country.

Minnesota Nice Tim Pawlenty showed last night that he can be a good attack dog. He did it with a smile. It is clear, Pawlenty said, that President Obama has failed but “a lot of people fail in their first job.” He called Obama “the tattoo president” because getting a tattoo “seemed like a good idea when we were young but later on it didn’t look so good, and you wonder ‘What was I thinking?’.” This was probably aimed at what the GOP is hoping are a lot of recovering Obama voters.

Condoleezza Rice, who also electrified the hall, had an impossible task: speak about America’s role in the world, while being the representative of an administration whose foreign policy remains largely unpopular. She was much better than Senator John McCain, who, as usual seemed stuck in the past. It was a good past of American greatness, but it is nevertheless the past. Rice accomplished this by talking about the necessity of American leadership, without being too specific.

I wish Rice had mentioned Obama’s thunderous silence, when Iranian dissidents risked their lives. He didn't have to be belligerent–he just had to offer encouragement. She did a good job, however,of portraying an Obama administration whose stances are unclear to friend and foe alike. Rice filled out her timeslot talking about education. Odd to hear a former secretary of state speaking almost as much about “K through 12” education as foreign policy. But since Rice is such a compelling person, she could get by with it.