The New, New, New, New Mitt Romney

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 30 2012 3:46 PM

The New, New, New, New Mitt Romney

Below the fold, you can read Mitt Romney's address to the people of Appleton, Wis. There is no point being contrarian: This is the post-Rubio, post-Ryan, out-of-my-way general election speech he has wanted to give before every Gingrich or Santorum upset. This is the pivot. What you get:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

- Extra patriotic cornpone. "America" or "Americans" is uttered 46 times. "If the hill is a little steeper before us," says Romney, "we have always been a nation of big steppers."

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- A statistic that will have to change. "Since Barack Obama became President, over 800,000 Americans have lost their jobs." If job growth chugs along at 200,000 per month -- possible, if oil shocks don't stop it -- there is a chance that the job loss record recedes as a solid talking point.

- Some candidate-thievery. "Forty-six and a half million Americans are now on food stamps, another record." That's Gingrich's line, but there's none of the wink-wink politicking that Gingrich uses when he says it. The stuff about why America fell for Obama: Hey, that's Santorum's material!

The speech:

In 222 days, something pretty extraordinary is going to happen in the country. We’ll have an election. Across this country, millions and millions of Americans will be able to do something that is really quite amazing: They will choose not only a President, but an entire House of Representatives and a third of the US Senate.

The entire world will be watching us. And by around midnight on November 6th, maybe a little earlier or a little later, we’ll know the results of millions of Americans exercising their right to vote and in doing so, making a choice so profound that it is very difficult for any of us to grasp.

No one can predict the crisis the next President will confront nor what the world will look like at the end of the next President’s term. In a world in which the economies of Athens, Wisconsin and Athens, Greece are connected, every decision becomes infinitely more complex.

But I believe Americans face a fundamental choice in this election, a decision that is much more important than the candidates or the political parties. We should understand that we are selecting not just who should guide us but a choice between two distinct paths and destinies for our nation.

In the days and months ahead, we should ask ourselves some very fundamental questions about who we are as a nation and who we are becoming. What does it mean to be an American in 2012? What will it mean in 2016 and beyond? Are we keeping faith with the great legacy – and trust – that has been handed to us by previous generations? And what America will we leave the next generation?

This campaign will produce a deafening cacophony of charges and counter charges and by November 6th, most Americans will probably be afraid to turn on their TV. So now, in this quiet before the storm, let’s start with some basic facts about which there can be no debate.

Since Barack Obama became President, over 800,000 Americans have lost their jobs.

Millions of Americans spent longer looking for a job than ever before. Long-term unemployment is the worst since the Great Depression.

Over 46 million Americans are now living in poverty, more than ever before in our nation’s history. In households with single moms, over 30% are living in poverty.

Forty-six and a half million Americans are now on food stamps, another record.

2.8 million homes have been foreclosed on.

New business startups are at the lowest level in 30 years.

Over 2,000 Chrysler and GM dealerships have closed and 22 automobile manufacturing plants have been shuttered or idled. 

Our yearly budget deficits are soaring and our national debt now stands at an all-time high. Barack Obama presided over the first trillion-dollar deficit in American history.  And he has repeated this dreadful distinction for each year he has been in office.

 

For the first time since World War II, our national debt is greater than the size of our entire economy. Each American’s share of the national debt stands at $50,000.

 

President Obama did not cause the recession, but he most certainly failed to lead the recovery. His stimulus protected the government, not the people. It was promised to hold unemployment below eight percent. It did not. Barack Obama’s stimulus was as ineffective as it was expensive.

 

His Obamacare didn’t help create jobs either. It discouraged small businesses and health companies from hiring new workers. And Dodd-Frank hurt the community banks that provide loans to small businesses.  But the “Too Big To Fail” banks are even bigger today.

 

He failed to deliver on jobs, but on his goal to raise energy prices, he sure came through.  All in all, President Obama prolonged the recession and slowed the recovery. His economic strategy is a bust.

 

These troubling facts are President’s Obama’s legacy and now our shared history. As much as we would like to, we can’t undo what has happened these past years. The families who have lost their homes, the factories that have closed, the students who had to drop out of college and those who never could make it in the door, all those missed chances and lost opportunities can’t be regained.

 

And that’s why it is important to understand one astonishing fact about this election: President Obama thinks he’s doing a good job. No, I’m not kidding. He actually thinks he’s doing a great job. An historically great job. According to the President, only Lincoln, FDR and Lyndon Johnson have accomplished more. And no, he didn’t say that on Saturday Night Live.

 

How can this be? Is it that the President is just so disconnected from what is happening across America that he doesn’t grasp the real consequences of his failures?

 

That answer is easy. The answer is yes. Of course. This is a President who was elected not on the strength of a compelling record but a compelling personality and story. There was much about the campaign of Barack Obama that appealed to many Americans. And though the reality has failed the hope and change he promised, he remains surrounded by true believers who attack anyone who challenges their power.  And, as we see each day, they will fight even more fiercely to hold on to that power.

 

All of this is to be expected. That power loves power and never lets go easily is hardly new. And that a White House has lost touch, well, I think we’ve seen that once or twice before.

 

But we should also remember that candidate Barack Obama pledged that he wanted to “transform this nation.” And, unfortunately, that is exactly what he has been doing.  And that is one more reason why this election is so critical.

 

The choice before us could not be more profound.  Barack Obama and I have fundamentally different visions for America.

 

He has spent the last four years laying the foundation for a new Government-Centered Society.  I will spend the next four years rebuilding the foundation of our Opportunity Society, led by free people and free enterprises.

 

Our different visions for America are the product of our values and our life experiences. 

 

Barack Obama once said that his work as a community organizer motivated him to help “communities that had been ravaged by plant closings.”  His desire to help others could not be more admirable but it’s clear that he saw free enterprise as the villain and not the solution.

 

The only real solution to help those communities devastated by lost jobs is more jobs. Barack Obama seems never to have understood the basic point that a plant closes when a business loses money.

So when this President attacks businesses for making money, and when his policies make it more difficult for businesses to make money, he is also attacking the very communities he wanted to help. That’s how it works in America. Or at least that’s how it works when America is working.

But under Barack Obama, America hasn’t been working. The ironic tragedy is that the community organizer who wanted to help those hurt by a plant closing became the President on whose watch more jobs were lost than any time since the Great Depression.

Instead of doing everything possible to promote the power of the free enterprise system to create jobs and get us out of this economic crisis, Barack Obama has promoted the power of government. The results have been predictably dismal, but he has “transformed” us, as he likes to say, closer to his vision of a Government-Centered Society.

In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, the government must do more because the economy is doomed to do less. When you attack business and vilify success, you will have less business and less success. And then, of course the debate becomes about how much to extend unemployment insurance because you have guaranteed there will be millions more unemployed.

In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, government naturally allocates the rewards. Tax breaks are bestowed not to make us more productive or to grow a stronger economy but to reshape the society into what is currently fashionable and politically correct. Because business is inherently suspect, government regulators who know better must oversee and direct business decision-making.

 

In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, tax increases become not only a necessity but also a desired tool for social justice. In that world of shrinking means, there’s a finite amount of money, and as someone once famously said, you need taxes to spread the wealth around.

 

In Barack Obama’s Government-Centered Society, government spending will always increase because there’s no reason to stop it. There’s always someone who is entitled to something more, and who will vote for anyone who will give them something more.

 

In a Government-Centered Society, government dispenses the benefits, borrows what it can’t take, and consumes a greater and greater share of the economy.

 

Today, government at all levels consumes 38 percent of the total economy or G.D.P. If Obamacare is allowed to stand, government will directly control almost half of the American economy.  And through the increasing controls government has imposed on industries like energy and financial services, and automobiles, it will indirectly or directly control well over half of our total economy.

One must ask whether we will still be a free enterprise nation and whether we will still have economic freedom. America is on the cusp of having a government-run economy. President Obama is transforming America into something very different than the land of the free and the land of opportunity.

We know where that transformation leads. There are other nations that have chosen that path. It leads to chronic high unemployment, crushing debt, and stagnant wages. Sound familiar?

I don’t want to transform America; I want to restore the values of economic freedom, opportunity, and small government that have made this nation the leader it is.

Freedom and opportunity have made America the most powerful economy in the world. They are the foundation of a nation with full employment, rising wages, and fiscal stability. The best thing we can do for the economic well-being of the people of America is not to grow government, it is to restore freedom and opportunity. It is opportunity that has always driven America and defined us as Americans.

My grandfather was in the construction business and he never really made it himself.  But he helped convince my dad that he could accomplish anything he set his mind to. My dad didn’t have the chance to finish college and he apprenticed as a lath and plaster carpenter. Based on that excellent training, he went on to turn around a great car company and later became governor of Michigan.

My father made the most of opportunities that came before him, and by the time I came along – I was the fourth of four brothers and sisters – I had the chance to get the education my dad couldn’t.

I loved cars and was tempted to stay in Michigan and go into the car business but I knew I would always wonder if any success I had was due to my father. So when I got out of business school, I stayed in Massachusetts and got an entry-level job with the best company that would hire me. More importantly, I was married and on the way to having five sons.

Over the next 25 years, my business career had many ups and downs, great successes, definite failures, but each step of the way I learned more about the transforming power of our great free enterprise system. 

I’m not naïve enough to believe that free enterprise is the solution to all of our problems – nor am I naïve enough to doubt that it is one of the greatest forces of good this world has ever known. 

Free enterprise has done more to lift people out of poverty, to help build a strong middle class, to help educate our kids, to make our lives better, than all of the government programs put together.

If we become one of those societies that attacks success, one outcome is certain – there will be a lot less success.

That’s not who we are. The promise of America has always been that if you worked hard, and took some risks, that there was the opportunity to build a better life for your family and for the next generation. It’s not government’s role to guarantee that every one of us will achieve the success we seek.

This nation was founded on the principle that we have a God-given right to pursue happiness. It is the pursuit that is guaranteed, not the result. It is the opportunity that is guaranteed, not the outcome. We are an Opportunity Nation.

Over the centuries, men and women pursuing happiness in their own unique ways have made ours the leading economy in the world, and as we look to the future, I am absolutely confident that the principles that created our strength are the very ones that will preserve it.

This means that government must be smaller and have strict limits placed on its power.  Obamacare violates both principles. I will repeal it.

Taxes should be as low as possible, in line with those of competing nations, and designed to foster innovation and growth. That’s why I will cut marginal tax rates across the board.

Regulations are necessary, but they must be continuously updated, streamlined, and modernized. Regulators should see part of their job as protecting economic freedom, promoting enterprise, and fostering job creation.

Workers should have the right to form unions, but unions should not be forced upon them. And unions should not have the power to take money out of their members’ paychecks to buy the support of politicians favored by the union bosses.

In short, government must make America the best place in the world for entrepreneurs, innovators, small business and big business – for job creators of all kinds. Business is not the enemy. It is the friend of jobs, of rising wages, and of the revenues government needs to care for the poor and the elderly, and to provide for the national defense. 

Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy, but they really don’t like businesses very much.  But the economy is simply the product of all the nations’ businesses added together.  So it’s like saying you love omelettes but don’t like eggs.

To build a strong economy that provides good jobs and rising wages and that reduces poverty, we need to build successful businesses of every kind imaginable.  And President Obama has been attacking successful businesses of every kind imaginable.

Apple Computer and Microsoft weren’t started to save the world and neither were General Motors or Alcoa. Nor were some of the companies I helped start like Staples or The Sports Authority. All of these great American enterprises were started because innovators had great ideas and great ambitions. They became great commercial ventures, which is another way of saying they made a lot of money. Not just for a few people but for many people. They helped people buy homes, go to school, retire, start other companies.

We have always been the country where dreamers build dreams and where one dream helps launch another. And if those dreamers are rewarded with prosperity, we view that as a reason others would be encouraged to dream big as well.

We have to understand that today much of the world is hungry for the big dreamers with big ideas. America must fight to grow these dreamers and innovators, and to attract those from other lands.

My father had a favorite saying: “Nothing is as vulnerable as entrenched success.” Today, because America has been so successful for so long, we seem to have forgotten what brought us here. America has become vulnerable to new competition, to looming debt, and to those who would substitute more government power for more freedom. We have made some bad choices and ignored the mounting threats.

But if the hill is a little steeper before us, we have always been a nation of big steppers.

In this last year, I have been all over this country, from student union cafeterias to kitchen tables, from factory breakrooms to boardrooms, and I’ve heard frustration and anger but rarely hopelessness. Many Americans have given up on this President but they haven’t ever thought about giving up. Not on themselves. Not on each other. And not on America.

We have a sacred duty to restore the promise of America. And we will do it.  We will do it because we believe in America.

This Tuesday, join me. Join me in the next step toward that destination of November 6th, when across America we can give a sigh of relief and know that the Promise of America has been kept. The dreamers can dream a little bigger, the help wanted signs can be dusted off, and we can start again.

And this time we’ll get it right. We’ll stop the days of apologizing for success at home and never again apologize for America abroad. Together we’ll build the greatest America we have ever known, where prosperity is grown and shared, not limited and divided, an America that guarantees that ours is the door that innovation and greatness always knocks on first.

There was a time – not so long ago – when each of us could walk a little taller and stand a little straighter because we had a gift that no one else in the world shared. We were Americans. That meant something different to each of us but it meant something special to all of us. We knew it without question. And so did the world.

Those days are coming back. That’s our destiny. Join me. Walk together this Tuesday. And take another step every day until November 6th.

We believe in America. We believe in ourselves. Our greatest days are still ahead. We are, after all, Americans!

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.