Mitt Romney Buffs His Conservative Credentials

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - America is at risk of becoming "the France of the 21st Century" unless policymakers curtail burdensome government policies and extravagant entitlement spending that work against the creative energies of free people, said former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Romney, who recently formed a presidential exploratory committee, delivered his remarks on Saturday at the National Review Conservative Summit, a gathering of conservative activists, lawmakers and pundits in Washington, D.C.

Romney said the "bar must be raised" in both domestic and foreign affairs at a time when Asian nations stand poised to challenge American primacy. The growing threat of "radical violent Islam" and the specter of a nuclear Iran also figured prominently in Romney's talk.

Present-day superpower status will not necessarily transfer over the long term, he said, if American policy-makers entertain false notions about the true source of the nation's strength.

Romney invoked the historical example of France to show how quickly once-great nations can lose power and influence when the wrong polices are embraced. To drive the point home, Romney quoted his father, who said, "Nothing is as vulnerable as entrenched success."

Unlike liberal Democrats who view government as the greatest source of American strength, Republicans understand that it is the "hard-working, innovative, risk-taking, God-fearing, family-loving and freedom-loving" American people who make the nation great and ensure its superpower status, Romney said.

Americans are fully capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st Century, he continued, so long as they have greater individual freedom, lower rates of taxation, less cumbersome investment opportunities and a more efficient government.

Romney expressed support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent and pointed out that has signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge."

He also expressed concern over what he termed a "disinvestment in technology" by corporations, driven in part by a high number of lawsuits. Americans corporations spent more money defending tort claims last year, Romney contends, than they did on research and development.

He also addressed the growth of entitlement programs.

"Spending in Washington is simply out of control," Romney said. America's long-term vitality is threatened by a mix of "pork-barrel" projects and extravagant entitlement expenditures, he argued.

Over two-thirds of federal spending will be directed to entitlement spending and the interest expense that goes with it by the time the next president finishes his second term, Romney claimed.

"How can we remain the world's military and economic superpower with that kind of entitlement expense trajectory?" he asked.

While he was governor, Romney said he pursued free-market reforms in health care and "choice" initiatives in education that could be applied on the national level. He also detailed efforts aimed at eliminating unnecessary and wasteful spending in the state budget.

Foreign policy

Romney said the threat of "jihadism" is "woefully misunderstood" and in some respects underestimated.

A network of radical elements -- including al Qaeda, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood and others - is able to reach millions of people with a message that is "devastating to civilization," and those radicals are working "to replace all moderate Islamic governments with a single caliphate and to govern all nations that have ever been touched by Islam," he said.

"For that to happen, they need to crush the superpower that keeps the world order in check, [and] that's the U.S. They want to collapse our economy, our government and our military."

While this may seem like a far-fetched proposition to some, Romney argued that the jihad elements are "crazy but not stupid," and have identified certain points of vulnerability, such as the "interdependent" nature of the U.S. economy.

Romney said Iran is "at the heart of the jihadist threat" and "must be stopped."

Some of the key policy proposals Romney discussed included a call to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "incitement to genocide."

He also outlined steps that could be taken both diplomatically and financially to isolate the regime in Iran. Romney, for instance, favors the imposition of restrictions on investments that would go to corporations doing business in Iran.

"Military options are not off the table," he added. "Nor are they coming off the table."

Cultural issues

Several high-profile issues assumed center stage in Massachusetts during Romney's term as governor, including same-sex marriage and the role of the judiciary.

At a time when the state supreme court was ruling in favor of homosexual marriage, Romney said he did "everything within my power and within the law to stand up for traditional marriage." He also expressed the view that marriage is not primarily about adults and adult rights but rather about "the development and nurturing of children."

While he acknowledged he was once "pro-choice" and not always a "Ronald Reagan conservative" on the question of abortion, Romney said he has "changed his view."

The turning point came, he explained, when he began to study stem cell research and found that a "bright line" could be crossed making it possible to create life simply for purpose of "experimentation and destruction," he added.

From that point forward, Romney said he squarely aligned himself with the pro-life cause and sought to advance measures as governor that would protect the "sanctity of life."

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