By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 2011; 11:56 AM
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney opened Friday's CPAC convention session with a sharp attack on President Obama, accusing the president of dithering on the economy and naivete on foreign policy.
Eyeing a second presidential campaign, Romney called the president's economic program "the most expensive failed social experiment in modern history." On foreign policy, he said, "The cause of liberty cannot endure much more of his 'they get, we give' diplomacy!"
Romney was the first of a series of prospective 2012 presidential candidates on the conference's Friday agenda, and he used the opportunity to draw a stark contrast with the incumbent. He challenged the idea that Obama has moved to the middle since the midterm elections, calling the shifts "the appearance of change" without a true change in policy.
Romney received a warm but not wildly enthusiastic reception when he came onstage. He was introduced by his wife, Ann Romney, who ended her remarks with an endorsement: "I know Mitt as a person, a very good person. I have also seen him as a leader. And I, for one, would like to see him lead the country as president of the United States."
Romney, who was a successful business executive before turning to politics, focused heavily on the president's record on the economy. Obama, he said, had failed to make job creation his top priority when he came into office, and Romney said he wouldn't need on-the-job training if he were in the Oval Office.
"Let me make this very clear," he said. "If I decide to run for president, it sure 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."
Romney said the president and his advisers have pursued a European model in their approach to the economy. "It does not work there, and it will never work here," he said.
He described the long lines of people seeking employment at job fairs across the country as "Obama's Hoovervilles," a reference to the Great Depression. "President Barack Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history," he said. "And that, my friends, is one inconvenient truth that will haunt this president throughout history."
Notably absent from the speech was any reference to health care. Many conservatives have criticized Romney for signing a health-care overhaul law in Massachusetts that is similar to that pushed by Obama as president and have said Romney needs to explain his actions more fully. But Friday, he ignored the topic.
Romney offered what has become among Republican presidential hopefuls the obligatory praise of American exceptionalism. "I don't apologize for America because I believe in America," he said.
Obama's foreign policies, he said, have been marked by presidential inexperience. "An uncertain world has been made more dangerous by the lack of clear direction from a weak president," he said.
He questioned the administration's policies on Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Russia. "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," he said.
The conference, hosted by the American Conservative Union, will hear from South Dakota Sen. John Thune, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels before Friday's sessions conclude.