Mitt Romney’s speech in Pennsylvania was on of the best of the general election. In addition to taking on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that,” he did three critical things.
First, he explained why Obama keeps touting collective over individual action:
You understand, of course, what’s going on. What he is saying is his justification for raising taxes higher and higher, because government needs more. What he is saying is his justification for Obamacare, which says that we need 2,300 pages of legislation to have government more intrusive in your life. What he is saying is his justification for a larger and larger government. This is very different, by the way, than the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton that said that the era of big-government was over, that reformed welfare. You heard that story by the way, he is trying to take work out of welfare requirement. It is changing the nature of America, changing the nature of what the Democrats have fought for, and Republicans have fought for. In the past, people of both parties understood that encouraging achievement, encouraging success, encouraging people to lift themselves as high as they can, encouraging entrepreneurs, celebrating success instead of attacking it and denigrating, makes America strong. That’s the right course for this country. His course is extraordinarily foreign.
Second, he stopped complaining about the scurrilous attacks and put the assault on his record in the broader context of Obama’s excuse-mongering: “[T]he President’s looking around for someone to blame, and recently, I became the reason for all our problems here. I was as surprised, my family and me, but he’s always looking for someone out there: ATM machines, tsunamis, China, Europe. I mean it’s always something, Congress. We won’t forget, by the way, that Congress was in his party for two years with a super majority. . . .He’s out of ideas. He’s got no new ideas for getting the economy going. He’s got no one new to blame. He’s out of touch with what’s happening in the country and that’s why in November we are going to put him out of office.” Now that’s a heck of a lot better than saying “Obama is lying about my record.” (He is, of course, but it’s not useful for him to keep saying so.)
Third, he debunked the idea he has no specific ideas. The pundits, even conservatives ones who should know better, have been making the claim for sometime. Romney has other faults, but lack of specificity isn’t one of them. He reeled off the same five policy areas he’s been hammering since day one:
Number one: I want to take advantage of our oil and our gas and our coal and our renewables and our nuclear. . . .
If I’m President, I want to open up new trade with places particularly in Latin America, right next door: a lot of people, a growing middle class, huge opportunity for us. That’s my number two is trade.
Number three: when you have a government that consistently borrows massively more than it takes in and you create larger and larger debt, as that debt gets so large relative to the size of the total economy, you slow down economic growth. Slow growth means fewer jobs. And that is why as President of the United States I will get America on track to have a balanced budget. [Applause] So number one energy, number two trade, number three a balanced budget—let me mention another one.
I want to make sure our people have the skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. And I’m not going to thank government for giving them those skills I’m going to make sure the people have the opportunity to reach for those capabilities. I want people to have good training opportunities in the workplace and in our colleges and universities. I also want people to get the best schools in the world. We’re not providing our kids the education they need. I want more choice in education. I will put our kids first and our unions behind, give the kids the best schools in the world. [Applause]
And my fifth, in addition to skills and education, is this: I want to encourage economic freedom. Our economy is driven by free people pursuing their ideas and their dreams. It is not driven by government. And what the President’s doing is crushing economic freedom. This philosophy of his, least him saying we’re going to take the tax on investment from 15% to 25% so government’s bigger, I want people to be freer. That’s why, in my view, anybody making $250,000 a year and less should pay no taxes on capital gains, interest, or dividends at all.
And he gave some big-picture vision as well. Helped I think, by the contrast to the president’s moment of candor on his collectivist instincts, Romney drew the very stark contrast between him and Obama:
Let me just end with this thought: this is an important choice. This is a defining choice. This is a choice about what America’s going to be. Not just for the next few years but for a century. This is a choice which will determine what kind of future our kids are going to have. And, in fact, it also determines what kind of future the world’s going to have. America plays an unusual role in the world—I think we understand that. Some in some circles tend to brush that aside. But those that have fought in world wars and other conflicts recognize the greatness of America and our unique role in the history of the earth. . . . And let me assure you that dividing America and attacking success and minimizing the achievement and accomplishment of entrepreneurs of all kinds—that does not make a stronger America. Believing in America mean believing in those principles upon which this nation was founded. And I do. I will keep those principles aloft. We will fight for them. We will keep America the hope of the earth.
I quote Romney at length because much of what Romney says is, frankly, not reported. And those pundits who grouse about lack of substance, I suspect, don’t read or see many of Romney’s speeches. If they did, they wouldn’t say there is no policy meat in them.
Perhaps the last week of attacks followed by Obama’s collectivist confession lit a fire under Romney, but whatever the reason he was more engaged and enthusiastic than he’s been of late. He needs to keep it up, and get a VP who will amplify that message.