Mitt Romney spoke last night to a packed house at Emory University, promoting his new book and no doubt testing out some lines for the 2012 campaign, which may begin as soon as the mid-terms are over.
After sharing his thoughts about what makes nations great — namely, its values, such as hard work, good education and an emphasis on the family in America — he made the case that the U.S. is the only nation that can lead in the 21st century if liberty and prosperity are to grow. And he spoke of his concern that “these elements of our culture are weakening and are under attack today” from an increasing dependence on government.
“Washington,” he said, “is smothering [our] great spirit…of pioneering and innovation.”
He spoke at length about entitlements — which, combined with the interest on the public debt, he said, account for 60 percent of the federal budget. He said the brand-new middle-class health entitlement will only make things worse. From a businessman’s perspective, he said, “I can’t imagine wanting to invest in anything in the medical field right now, because you don’t know what the government will do.”
But the line of the night, the line you can imagine at the center of a Romney 2012 campaign, was this one: “It is time for the truth to trump hope.”
The line is an unmistakable reference to President Obama, and to the promises that he (and pretty much every other politician) makes but cannot keep. It didn’t sound as if it had been focus-grouped to death, and it may well be refined in the months and years to come; do you really want to say “trump hope”?
But I thought it worked because Romney’s broader message was a hopeful one, not a negative one. He spoke of building America’s greatness and of issuing “no apology” — the title of his new book — for the nation that “has done more to help people enjoy liberty and prosperity” than any other in history. At the same time, he spoke of the need to face facts, such as the unsustainability of those budget-consuming entitlements and a public debt that is projected to reach crippling proportions over the coming decade.
He kept true to this emphasis on truth when asked by an audience member about his health reforms as governor of Massachusetts, and whether RomneyCare was too similar to ObamaCare. (You may recall that I wrote recently that such comparisons would ultimately doom his presidential ambitions.)
To his credit, Romney didn’t dodge. He acknowledged some similarities and stuck up for the programs he had introduced. He argued that it was more appropriate for an individual state, as opposed to the federal government, to implement such a plan, which is fair enough as long as he can convince voters that he would act differently as president than he did as governor. He also said that ObamaCare’s price controls, which he didn’t establish in Massachusetts, were wrong-headed. And he admitted that his plan had flaws which require solutions, while at the same time getting off a good line about the president. Given that so many comparisons between the plans have been made, “Why didn’t he call and ask for my advice? I would have given him some good advice.”
“It’s time for the truth in this country,” he reiterated, perhaps landing on a better formulation of the earlier line, and definitely hitting on a necessary theme for our politics.