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Mitt Romney at University of Chicago: Obama’s policies attack ‘economic freedom’

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Chip Somodevilla Getty images Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the International House at the University of Chicago on Monday.

CHICAGO – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney traveled Monday to the urban campus where President Obama once taught constitutional law to lecture the president on the principle of economic freedom.

Delivering a formal speech at the University of Chicago on the eve of the critical Illinois primary, Romney said Obama had “attacked the cornerstone of American prosperity: economic freedom.” He argued that it was free markets and free people, not government, that creates economic prosperity.

“The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid — and why it couldn’t meet their expectations, let alone ours,” Romney said. “If we don’t change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come.”

In his 19-minute speech, which Romney delivered wearing a suit and with the aid of teleprompters, Romney said the word “freedom” some 29 times. But although the professor introducing him detailed the latest delegate count, even noting that Romney has just more than double Rick Santorum’s, Romney steered clear of any mention of his Republican opponents.

Instead, the former Massachusetts governor focused squarely on the president – and the symbolism of his speech was not lost. Romney spoke in a lecture hall of the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, where Obama once served as an advisory board member. The building, International House, is across the grassy mall from the Law School campus where Obama lectured and just one block from the Laboratory Schools where the president’s daughters attended elementary school.

In his remarks, Romney paid homage to the University of Chicago’s long tradition as an intellectual center for free-market economics and heralded the late Milton Friedman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who taught for three decades here. He framed the general election contest with Obama as a battle over economic freedom.

“This November, we face an important decision,” Romney said. “Our choice will be one not one of just party or personality. This election will be about principle. Our economic freedom will be on the ballot. And I intend to offer the American people a clear choice.

Romney’s speech was shy on specifics and largely constituted a reframing of his previously announced economic policies – to loosen federal regulations, rein in government spending, lower the debt and lower corporate taxes to spur job growth in the private sector.

Romney spoke with particular disdain for government bureaucrats.

“Our freedom is never safe because unelected, unaccountable regulators are always on the prowl,” Romney said. “And under President Obama, they are multiplying like proverbial rabbits.”

Romney argued that what he considers an overly burdensome regulatory and tax system was stifling entrepreneurial dreams and innovation.

“We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam,” he said. “Today, we can’t even build a pipeline. We once led the world in manufacturing, exports and infrastructure investment. Today, we lead the world in lawsuits.”

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