First, we learned beyond doubt that Condoleezza Rice is a firm conservative. Her message, mixing hard truths with uplifting themes, was a model for the way Republicans can -- and should -- reach out to minority voters in the future. Without any hint of pandering, she showed how concern for the least privileged among us fits comfortably within the conservative message, especially when it comes to education. From the talks she gave during the Bush years, I don't recall her being such a powerful orator; I wonder whether she has taken time to improve her skills in that area -- and if so, what that means about her future political ambitions. After the speech she delivered last night, there are many who would be enthusiastic about seeing her run for office (apparently, it was the same speech she delivered in Utah earlier this year, starting VP buzz).
Second, we learned that Paul Ryan isn't just brilliant (and good) -- he's also an excellent politician. His speech was artful in making the case against Obama, even as he also made the case for conservative political thought, locating human freedom squarely within the context of natural rights. In contrast to many of the politicians who possess a detailed grasp of fiscal policy, he is able both to explain our fiscal circumstances in a way that is accessible to normal people and to refrain from wading into the green-eyeshade swamp -- where, too often, rectifying our fiscal situation is presented as a wonky end in itself rather than a prerequisite to remaining free. His vision of a humble government -- that listens to and is ruled by citizens, rather than the opposite -- presented a stark contrast to the Obama vision in which government is, effectively, the master and citizens are the servants. Of any politician I've seen in the post-Reagan era, there is something about his ability to deliver hard facts with passion, conviction, knowledge and heart that reminds me of Ronald Reagan. That there might another such splendid conservative and politician, too, is something worth knowing.
With last night's superlative speeches, America -- and the GOP -- learned two important things that will matter in years to come.