CHICAGO -- At Charlie Parker’s Diner in Springfield, Ill., on Monday morning, Mitt Romney told patrons: “I believe the economy is coming back, by the way. We’ll see what happens. It’s had ups and downs. I think it’s finally coming back.”
But in a policy speech a few hours later at the University of Chicago, where President Obama once taught law, Romney was far more ominous: “The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid.”
Romney’s speech on economic matters on the eve of Tuesday’s Illinois primary was similar to a more heralded one he gave last month at Detroit’s Ford Field, though it was more tightly scripted and featured a greater use of anecdotes to underscore his points.
And although he gave few specifics on how he would address things, in response to questions afterward he cited cutting taxes to stimulate investment while cutting spending, including eliminating some federal job-training programs he said are overly duplicative.
At the crux of his speech was a lesson Romney said he had learned from economic historian David Landes’ 1998 book The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, which ascribed that economic differences between nations near each other – such as Israel and Egypt – are attributable to culture. He argued that free enterprise – at the heart of American economic culture – is under attack.
“One feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out: freedom,” he said. “The American economy is fueled by freedom.… Today, however, our status and our standing are in peril because the source of our economic strength is threatened. Over the last several decades, and particularly over the last three years, Washington has increasingly encroached upon our freedom.”
To drive home his point, Romney mentioned an entrepreneur in St. Louis who recently had to lay off workers. “He said that, by his calculation, government takes 65 percent of what his business earns. President Obama wants to take even more,” he said.
Romney also invoked an Idaho couple whom he said were cited by the Environmental Protection Agency for building a home in a wetlands area and were barred from appealing. “An unelected government bureaucrat robbed them of their freedom,” he said.
The former Massachusetts governor also directly refuted an Obama speech in Maryland last week in which the president argued that Republicans should not dismiss his energy policies. “We are inventors, we are builders, we are makers of things,” Obama said in the speech. “We are Thomas Edison, we are the Wright Brothers, we are Bill Gates, we are Steve Jobs. That's who we are. That's who we need to be right now."
Romney argued that Obama’s regulations were having the opposite effect. “A regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their ‘dust pollution.’ And the government would have banned Thomas Edison's light bulb. Oh yeah -- they just did,” he said.
So crushing are the administration’s regulations, lamented Romney, that “[w]e once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Today, we can't even build a pipeline” – a reference to the controversial stalled Keystone XL project.