An energized Mitt Romney delivered one of his feistiest speeches of the campaign in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, accusing President Obama of “attacking success.”
“Our economy is driven by free people pursuing their ideas and their dreams,” Romney said. “It is not driven by government and what the president is doing is crushing economic freedom.”
Romney made heavy use of an out-of-context quote, however, to make his point. His campaign and Republican surrogates cherry-picked a sentence from a Friday speech in which Obama praised public investments in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, saying, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.”
The “that” in question referred to government-led projects like the Internet or the highway system that businesses benefit from, but Romney suggested Obama was telling business leaders they didn’t deserve credit for their own companies.
“To say something like that is not just foolishness, it’s insulting to every entrepreneur and innovator,” Romney said. He recounted how a friend, Jimmy John Liautaud, built a successful sandwich business from the ground up.
“I do not give government credit for having built that, I give free people credit for having built that business,” Romney said.
Romney didn’t directly address the dominant story on the campaign trail this week, a wave of Democratic attacks on his work at Bain Capital and accusations that he’s evading responsibility for investments that led to layoffs and offshoring. But he suggested that Obama was running an unnecessarily negative campaign and trying to distract from the economy.
“The president’s looking around for someone to blame, and recently, I became the reason for all the problems,” Romney said. “I was surprised, my family and me, but he’s always looking for someone out there: ATM machines, tsunamis, China, Europe. It’s always something.”
Romney said later that such attacks harmed the country: “Let me assure you that dividing America and attacking success and minimizing the achievement of entrepreneurs and innovators of all kinds, that does not make a stronger America,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, Lis Smith, accused Romney of deliberately distorting the president’s words.
“Mitt Romney’s campaign has already gone off the deep end today in an attempt to once again change the storyline away from his Bain tenure and investments in foreign tax havens and offshore accounts. Now, Romney himself is joining in with his own over-the-top attacks” Smith said. “As President Obama said the other day, those who start businesses succeed because of their individual initiative - their drive, hard work, and creativity. But there are critical actions we must take to support businesses and encourage new ones - that means we need the best infrastructure, a good education system, and affordable, domestic sources of clean energy. Those are investments we make not as individuals, but as Americans, and our nation benefits from them. Apparently Mitt Romney disagrees.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.