Shortly after the Republican convention, the New York Times published an article that criticized Paul Ryan for what it described as the inaccuracies he gave during his speech, for claims he made against Barack Obama which, according to the newspaper, could provide a misleading picture of the actions of the president’s government.
The New York Times’ attack did not go unnoticed but it certainly did not unleash the predicted polemic backlash one would imagine; what instead seized the entire media was when Paul Ryan commented on a subject that had absolutely nothing to do with politics, Obama or winning the White House: his athletic prowess.
It happened that during a radio interview, the candidate from Wisconsin claimed he had run a marathon in a little less than two and a half hours — not only a championship time (the world record was set by the Kenyan Patrick Makau Musyoki in Berlin in 2011 with a time of two hours, three minutes and 38 seconds) but also the time of top professionals of the distance (42 kilometers and 75 meters, or 26 miles and 385 yards).
His remark was seen by some as proof of the tendency of this man (a politician) to tell untruths, and by others as his propensity to inflate some of his personal characteristics to “impress” the general public. Democratic commentators followed the former path: He is a shameless liar, and here is the proof. The others made fun of him: Who is he, Superman?
In the end, in order to end the polemics, a spokesperson for Paul Ryan was forced to intervene to clarify that the vice presidential candidate had only run a single marathon in his life, in Minnesota in 1990: the Grandma’s Marathon. He came in 20th place, and ran the distance in four hours, 1 minute and 25 seconds. He was young and participated in many sports — athletics, basketball, climbing and skiing — but he did not specialize in long-distance running.
Ryan attempted to bring an end to the incident before anyone could take advantage of it to try to portray him as an untrustworthy person or someone who wants to pass himself off as something he isn’t. There should never be any doubts cast on the faith the electorate has in a candidate, even when they talk about their hobbies or their favorite sport.
At least it can be said that Paul Ryan chose a very popular sport for his gaffe, which can only prove to be an advantage for him. It provides an image of what he (partly) still is: an exuberant, corn-fed boy from the Midwest who takes part in sports that appeal to everyone, unlike the elitists Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
The former loves basketball, as do millions of Americans (he had a small court built inside the White House), but also golf, considered to be an elite sport. This has prompted attacks from his political opponents; they say he has too often been found to be tied up playing 18 holes (a record 100 rounds since he moved into the White House).
The sports loved by the Republican candidate are not themselves elitist, but the way in which he takes part in them is. Every year, Mitt Romney organizes family Olympics (volleyball, swimming, running) at his exclusive family estate. It would appear he is very competitive with his children and grandchildren. He doesn’t like to lose. However, this was already understood.