Last Thursday, Claremont McKenna College welcomed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney to campus for a dinner, speech, and question and answer session at the Miriam Miner Cook Athenaeum.
Romney’s talk was partisan but congenial, and this style was evident from his opening remarks. “I’ll tell you why it is, in my view, no thinking person should be a democrat,” he said, adding, “I know that’s an arrogant and excessive comment.”
The 2008 Republican candidate for the presidency warned his audience at the Athenaeum that the United States has reached an “inflection point” in its history.
“I’m very concerned that we have been put on a course of decline as a nation, in part by politicians who don’t fully understand the nature of America,” he said. “There has been a gradual encroachment on the part of a large central government, guiding American life.”
Romney, stopping in Claremont in the midst of his book tour, was brought to campus by the Res Publica Society Speakers’ Series as well as the Pacesetter Fellowship Program, an alumni group comprised of CMC graduates from 1949, 1950 and 1951, of which Romney is a fellow.
Romney’s luncheon and dinner speeches, named after his new book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, outlined his analysis on American government’s natural advantages and the threats it faces today.
From the outset, Romney said he was “optimistic” about America’s future. With the impending retirement of millions of Baby Boomers, he said, entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security will force young adults to carry the economic burden to care for the elderly.
“I have a chapter in my book I call ‘The Worst Generation.’ It refers to me and my generation. The baby boom generation has voted ourselves massive entitlements.”
He appealed to the employed members of the audience: “FICA is the payroll tax. That’s what goes to pay retirement benefits, not yours but ours.”
Drawing from his background as a CEO, Romney discussed economic trends and their impact on the future, often referencing federal tax rates and government spending figures.
He parlayed this point into a condemnation of the recently-passed health care bill, denouncing the federal government’s role in the plan and distancing it from the Massachusetts plan passed under his governership.
“Consumer-driven markets work. They’ve been proven to work all over the world. How do we make sure that we get health care to act more like a market?”
Romney also attacked cap-and-trade legislation, as well as labor legislation promoting the “card-check” vote for unionization. “[Liberals] want to remove the right of a secret ballot on the part of American workers,” he said on this last point.
Eager to take advantage of Romney’s knowledge and experience, CMC students peppered him with questions about financial regulation, health care reform, entitlement programs and the cultural shift in the political right.
“I’m happy…with the tea party movement,” he said in response to a question about the state of the Republican party. “I like the energy in our party right now.”
When another student asked about his experience as a Mormon running for office, he brushed off concerns that his religion would be a concern that voters would voice.
“The great majority [of voters] will select the person based on their ideas, their values, whether they think they can win and so forth,” he said, noting that he received significant support from evangelical Christians in states such as Michigan during his presidential bid.
Earlier in the day, Romney made a luncheon appearance at a Res Publica event in Costa Mesa, with 500 CMC alumni, guests and invited students in attendance. He cast America’s struggle as one of civic values, and victory as dependent on legislators asking whether bills would “make us stronger or weaker.”
While the main points of the speech remained the same as those in his Athenaeum talk, he began his speech by addressing the new geopolitical paradigm the United States faced after the Cold War.
“Back in the Cold War, there were two competing strategies in the world.…We won, they lost,” he said. “And when it came time to decide which nation would be the model the rest of the world followed, we thought it would be clear. But what we see now is the emergence of multiple competing strategies.”
He listed four systems of government: the US’s emphasis on economic and political freedom, China’s economic freedom paired with political authoritarianism, Russia’s limits on political and economic liberty, and Islamic jihad’s theocracy.
“But only one system is based on complete freedom,” he said. “Ours.”
Romney sidestepped any suggestions of a second campaign for office. When an alumnus asked who he thought would make a good Republican candidate for the Presidency, Romney suggested someone “who was tested in the political arena, not battle-weary, someone who understands economics, someone bipartisan…someone willing to tell the truth.”
John Thomason contributed reporting to this article.