(The Root) — The first rule of medicine is “do no harm.” You could say this is the first rule of giving a political speech, too. It’s harder than it sounds, particularly when you are speaking on behalf of someone else. History is littered with instances in which someone who was supposed to help a campaign hurt it instead by saying something ill advised or downright stupid.
In his speech before the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, Gov. Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, certainly did no harm. He came across as likable and down to earth — two traits Romney has struggled to project to voters. Ryan’s speech was good, and possibly could even have been remembered as great, had it been given on any other night.
Ryan had the misfortune of delivering his good speech on the same night that other Republicans delivered what many are hailing as great speeches. Unfortunately for Ryan, the two best speeches of the night were not only delivered by others but by two people who were mentioned as contenders for the spot on the GOP ticket Ryan now occupies.
Having New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deliver speeches just before Ryan was the equivalent of inviting two of your fiance’s exes — the ones he dated right before you — to give a toast at the wedding. And in this particular case the toasts turned out to be much more heartfelt, touching and memorable than the vows.
Martinez is the first Latina governor in U.S. history, and Rice was the first black woman to serve as secretary of state. In addition to sharing a penchant for history making, both women are minorities from middle-class backgrounds whose families were entirely self-made and instilled in them a commitment to self-reliance.
Their backgrounds make them much more effective messengers for discussing the importance of personal choice and determination in achieving the American dream, a message difficult to deliver credibly by messengers born into privilege, like Romney. But since being male, and even white, still carries with it certain inherent privileges, at least in America, Martinez and Rice provided a refreshing contrast to the parade of white males who preceded them and dominated the evening.
While their speeches were optimistic, celebrating the greatness of the country that allowed both of them and their parents to go so far, they both managed to display an important character trait that largely eluded Ryan in his remarks: toughness.
When Secretary Rice looked into the camera and declared, “Peace comes from strength,” and the audience applauded, the moment was a powerful reminder that this is a woman who doesn’t shy away from war. Meaning that she would have been a natural fit for the vice presidential ticket, since that person is largely there to get in the trenches and do the political fighting the presidential candidate doesn’t have time to, doesn’t want to or doesn’t want to be seen doing for image reasons.
It’s very likely that should the Romney-Ryan ticket not be successful in November, Paul Ryan will become the answer to a trivia question by Christmas. But it’s even more likely that Condoleezza Rice and Susana Martinez will be at many more Republican National Conventions to come, and the next time they are, it could be for one of them to give the speech that Ryan gave tonight: the speech where she introduces herself as that year’s vice presidential nominee.