DES MOINES — Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney tried to tap into the anxieties of middle-class voters here Wednesday by delivering a spirited rebuke of President Obama’s economic policies and arguing that he is better suited to bring people more jobs and take-home pay.
For the second straight day, the presumptive Republican nominee accused Obama of dismantling federal welfare reform and creating a “culture of dependency.” But that attack was merely part of a broader assault by Romney on what he sees as Obama’s overall governing philosophy.
“When it comes to the spirit of America, I want to restore the spirit of independence. I do not want to install a spirit of dependence on government, and that’s the direction we’re going,” Romney told several hundred supporters in a steamy high school auditorium in Des Moines.
Campaigning in a state where Obama is planning a three-day bus tour next week, Romney argued that the president’s stewardship of the economy was failing the American people. He contrasted Obama with former president Ronald Reagan, noting that unemployment in the early years of Reagan’s presidency surpassed 10 percent but came “roaring back” — a recovery he attributed to Reagan’s business-friendly policies.
“It’s tough to be middle class in America today, and a lot of folks that are in the middle class have now found themselves falling into poverty, having to go on food stamps,” Romney said. “This is very different than the kind of record that occurred under Ronald Reagan.”
One former president Romney did not talk much about is Bill Clinton. When he debuted his welfare attack in Illinois on Tuesday, Romney accused Obama of dismantling Clinton’s popular bipartisan welfare overhaul, an attempt to drive a wedge between the popular former president and the current occupant of the Oval Office.
But Romney’s attack drew a direct rebuke from Clinton, who issued a statement Tuesday night calling the allegations false. And by Wednesday morning, Romney seemed to have largely stripped Clinton’s name from his stump speech. He mentioned him only once in his remarks here, noting that Clinton and congressional Republicans came together to pass welfare reform.
“With a very careful executive action, [Obama] removed the requirement of work from welfare,” Romney said. “It is wrong to make any change that would make America more of a nation of government dependency. We must restore it, and I will restore work in welfare.”
The Obama campaign has pushed back aggressively against Romney’s welfare attack, noting that independent fact-checkers have called it a distortion.
“Mitt Romney continued to make attacks today that he knows are both untrue and hypocritical,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. “If we take Mitt Romney at his word today that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, it becomes clear that he lacks the core strength and principles the nation needs in a president.”
In his Iowa speech, Romney drew a standing ovation when he reprised his critique of Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark from last month. Romney said Obama was suggesting that business owners do not deserve credit for creating their businesses, because they had help from their communities and government — a characterization that critics say was taken out of context.
“He looks at government as the source of our greatness,” Romney said. “I look at the American people as the source of our greatness.”
Then Romney made an analogy to a child who made the honor roll at school.
“When that kid gets the honor roll, I realize to get to school they’ve got to go on a bus. And the bus driver is driving the bus. But when he makes the honor roll, I don’t credit the bus driver. I credit the kid who got the honor roll.”