WASHINGTON -- Former Governor Mitt Romney spoke this morning to conservatives at a packed convention in Washington, test-driving some of the themes he would use in his expected GOP primary campaign.
After being introduced by his wife, Ann, Romney quickly launched a strong assault on President Obama, mocking the president's new tack to the political center as subterfuge for the usual Democratic policies.
“Make no mistake, what we're watching is not Brave New World. What we're watching is Groundhog Day,'' Romney said, drawing applause from the packed convention hall.
But notably, the likely presidential candidate never made a prominent mention of health care – either President Obama’s national plan, or Romney’s own in Massachusetts. He mentioned the word “organic” more times (twice) than “healthcare” (once)
The omission was striking, given the prominence that Republicans are placing on the president’s health care plan. Nearly every speaker at the conference has used Obama’s health care plan to rile the base and ensure loud applause.
Romney instead focused on what is seen as his strong point -- the economy – to try and bolster his credibility as an economic Mr. Fix It.
“Let me make this very clear,” Romney said. “If I decide to run for President, it won’t take me two years to wake up to the job crisis threatening America. And I won’t be asking Timothy Geithner how the economy works—or Larry Summers how to start a business. I know.”
He also said Obama had not done nearly enough to try and get the economy back on track.
“His response was this: It could be worse,” Romney said. “It could be worse? This is the leader of the Free World’s answer to the greatest job loss since the Great Depression? What’s next? Let them eat cake? Oh, excuse me. Organic cake.”
This year’s Republican field is still in flux, with no clear front-running in the race. But Romney is seen as one of the leading candidates, and he drew a packed ballroom for the speech.
There were several standing ovations and, after the speech, a large crowd formed around him, with shouts for autographs and photos.
In a line that drew one of the biggest responses from the crowd, Romney said, “It’s going to take more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work—it’s going to take a new president.”
Romney also touched on themes of American pride, talking about how his father – who never graduated from college – became an American Motors executive and Michigan governor.
“For my Dad, America was the land of opportunity, where free enterprise, small business and entrepreneurs were encouraged and respected,” he said. “The spirit of enterprise propelled America’s economy and our standard of living past every other nation on earth.”
Romney is one of several likely presidential hopefuls speaking at the conference today, including Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and Senator John Thune of South Dakota. Representative Ron Paul, a Texas Republican and Tea Party favorite, is addressing the crowd this afternoon.
Below is the full text of Romney's prepared remarks.
I've been in Ann's shadow ever since our first date in high school. Over our years together, she's waged some pretty impressive battles. Among her many accomplishments, none is more important or rewarding—to us and to our country—than her accomplishment as a successful mother of 5 and grandmother of 16.
Thank you, Ann.
The other night, from opposite coasts of the country, Ann and I watched President Obama's State of the Union address. Ann figured out pretty fast what was going on. She sent me an email saying that it sounded like he was reading my CPAC speech from last year.
What we were hearing was not just a new and improved Barack Obama; it was an entirely different Barack Obama.
Saul Alinsky was out; Jeffrey Immelt was in.
The President went from "Change you can believe in" to "Can you believe this change?"
He sounded like he was going to dig up the First Lady's organic garden to put in a Bob's Big Boy.
But as the speech went on, it was clear that this was just the appearance of change: His answer for Americans out of work was more government spending and $50 billion for high speed rail.
He replaced his Chicago politician chief of staff with a fresh face from Chicago, named Daley.
Make no mistake: What we are watching is not Brave New World; what we're watching is Groundhog Day!
Two years ago, this new President faced an economic crisis and an increasingly uncertain world.
An uncertain world has been made more dangerous by the lack of clear direction from a weak President. The President who touted his personal experience as giving him special insight into foreign affairs was caught unprepared when Iranian citizens rose up against oppression. His proposed policy of engagement with Iran and North Korea won him the Nobel Peace Prize. How's that worked out? Iran armed Hezbollah and Hamas and is rushing toward nuclear weapons. North Korea fired missiles, tested nukes, sunk a South Korean ship and shelled a South Korean island. And his "reset program" with Russia? That consisted of our President abandoning our missile defense in Poland and signing a one-sided nuclear treaty. The cause of liberty cannot endure much more of his "they get, we give" diplomacy!
The world – and our valiant troops – watched in confusion as the President announced that he intended to win the war in Afghanistan….as long as it didn't go much beyond August of 2011. And while the Taliban may not have an air force or sophisticated drones, it's safe to say… they do have calendars.
I surely hope that at some point in the near future, the President will finally be able to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy.
Here at home, the President's response to the economic crisis was the most expensive failed social experiment in modern history.
He guaranteed that unemployment wouldn't go beyond 8%. As he watched millions and millions of Americans lose their jobs, lose their homes and lose their hope, his response was this: It could be worse.
It could be worse? This is the leader of the Free World's answer to the greatest job loss since the Great Depression? What's next? Let them eat cake?
Oh, excuse me. Organic cake.
It's often said that the Presidency of the United States is the toughest job in the world. Fair enough. Undoubtedly true.
But how difficult is it to take office in the middle of a raging economic crisis and understand that the economy should be your number one priority?
The President who took office on January 20th, 2009 should have had one central mission – put Americans back to work! Fight for every job! Because every job is a paycheck and paychecks fuel Americans dreams.
Without a paycheck, you can't take care of your family. Without a paycheck you can't buy school books for your kids, keep a car on the road or help an aging parent make ends meet.
President Barack Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history. And that, my friends, is one inconvenient truth that will haunt this President throughout history.
Today there are more men and women out of work in America than there are people working in Canada. And in the month of January, Canada created more new jobs than we did.
When Ronald Reagan ran for President, he hung the Misery Index around Jimmy Carter's neck. Today's misery is real unemployment, home foreclosures and bankruptcies. This is the Obama Misery Index—and it's at a record high. It's going to take more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work—it's going to take a new president.
Let me make this very clear. If I decide to run for President, it won't take me two years to wake up to the job crisis threatening America. And I won't be asking Tim Geithner how the economy works—or Larry Summers how to start a business.
Fifteen million Americans are out of work. And millions and millions more can't find the good paying jobs they long for and deserve. You've seen the heartbreaking photos and videos of the jobs fairs around the country, where thousands show up to stand in line all day just to have a chance to compete for a few job openings that probably aren't as good as the job they held two years ago. These job fairs and unemployment lines are President Obama's Hoovervilles.
Make no mistake. This is a moral tragedy—a moral tragedy of epic proportion. Unemployment is not just a statistic. Fifteen million unemployed is not just a number. Unemployment means kids can't go to college; that marriages break up under the financial strain; that young people can't find work and start their lives; and men and women in their 50s, in the prime of their lives, fear they will never find a job again. Liberals should be ashamed that they and their policies have failed these good and decent Americans!
The President is trying to show that he finally gets it—that he really isn't a liberal after all. But his idea of conservative economic policy is to invite some corporate CEO's to the White House for an evening of table-talk.
I'm sorry Mr. President, but that's not a policy, it's a dinner party.
We've seen the failure of liberal answers before. Liberal welfare policies condemned generations to dependency and poverty. Liberal education policies fail our children today, because they put pensions and privilege for union bosses above the reading scores of our kids. Liberal social policies have failed to protect the unborn. And now, the hollow promises of liberal economic policies have failed to provide millions of Americans with the dignity of work.
Under the pressure of a crisis, people turn to what they really believe. With our economy in crisis, the President and his fellow liberals turned to Europe for their answers. Like the Europeans, they grew the government, they racked up bigger deficits, they took over healthcare, they pushed cap and trade, they stalled production of our oil and gas and coal, they fought to impose unions on America's workers, and they created over a hundred new agencies and commissions and hundreds of thousands of pages of new regulations. Theirs is a European-style solution to an American problem. It does not work there and it will never work here!
The right answer is not to believe in European solutions. The right answer is to believe in America—to believe in free enterprise, capitalism, limited government, federalism—and to believe in the constitution, as it was written and intended by the founders.
My father never graduated from college. He apprenticed as a lath and plaster carpenter, and he was darn good at it. He learned how to put a handful of nails in his mouth and spit them out, point forward. On his honeymoon, he and Mom drove across the country. Dad sold aluminum paint along the way, to pay for gas and hotels.
Dad always believed in America; and in that America, a lath and plaster man could work his way up to running a little car company called American Motors and end up Governor of a state where he had once sold aluminum paint.
For my Dad, America was the land of opportunity, where free enterprise, small business and entrepreneurs were encouraged and respected. The spirit of enterprise propelled America's economy and our standard of living past every other nation on earth.
I refuse to believe that America is just another place on the map with a flag. I believe that America is an exceptional nation, of freedom and opportunity and hope.
The America I believe in has goodness and a greatness that creates a unique American genius. That genius has blessed the world, led the world and yes, even saved the world from unimaginable darkness.
We didn't originate the concept of liberty but our Founding Fathers redefined it and shared it with the world. From the brilliant sands of Omaha beach to the dark valleys of the Hindu Kush, we have fought with an unmatched courage and determination, not to conquer territory, but to give others the chance to experience the liberty that is humanity's destiny.
Given all that America has done to lift others from poverty, given the millions of afflicted we have helped to heal and comfort, and given the hundreds of thousands of lives of America's sons and daughters that have been, and are today, sacrificed to defend freedom, I will not apologize for America!
I don't apologize for America because I believe in America!
We believe in freedom, in opportunity. We believe in free enterprise and capitalism. We believe in the American dream. And we believe that the principles that made America the leader of the world today are the very principles that will keep America the leader of the world tomorrow.
These last two years have not been the best of times. But while we've lost a couple of years, we have not lost our way.
This is fundamentally what conservatism is all about. We sing for God to bless America. He already has, he does now and thanks to the greatness of the American people and the principles that guide us, he will do so for generations to come.
Believe in America. Freedom depends on it.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.