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Remarks by Mitt Romney, Former Governor of Massachusetts (R), at a President's Day Dinner

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Location: Spartanburg, South Carolina


Remarks by Mitt Romney, Former Governor of Massachusetts (R), at a President's Day Dinner

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MR. ROMNEY: Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, Ann and I want to say thank you to friends who are here. In addition to Senator DeMint, there are so many. I could go down a whole list of all the elected officials, and of course, Rick Beltram, who organized this this evening. Gosh, he keeps getting bigger and bigger crowds! I think this is the fourth event Rick has brought me to. Each time the group gets larger and larger. He's doing what you'd expect him to do now. He's counting money. I looked over -- he's counting the money! He's making sure this thing pays for itself. What a great (county share ?).

Thanks also to all of the -- yeah, to Rick! Thank you for your work. (Applause.)

We've got other friends here -- Marlene Saad (sp) and June Bond. Thank you, Cindy Costa, who's here, who represents the Republicans across the state. What a wonderful job she does! And to our elected officials -- there's the lieutenant governor. I didn't see you, Lieutenant Governor. Andre, what a wonderful hero and champion time and again. Thank you! (Applause.) Governor, good to have you here. Thank you. (Applause.) Sheriff Wright is here and so many others.

I saw Reverend White here. Gosh, you have such wonderful pastors in this area! Ann and I were together with Pastor White and with many of his colleagues. And they knew that Ann wasn't terribly well and they got together to offer a prayer on her behalf. Boy, I'll tell you, it's still working, Pastor White. You and your friends are doing great things. Thank you for your participation here this evening as well. Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, I brought Ann up here because she's been the person behind me all my life. Who was it -- I think it was Woody Allen who said, "Ninety percent of history can be explained as a man trying to impress a woman." And there's a bit of truth to that in my life. I met Ann in high school, fell in love -- head over heels -- been in love ever since. She's the mom of our five boys, takes care of our five daughters-in-law, our 10 grandkids. My sweetheart. I'd like you to meet her: Ann Romney. (Applause.)

ANN ROMNEY (wife of Mitt Romney): We are just blessed to be here. Thank you all for coming. It's a wonderful day in South Carolina. I think it was 70 degrees and sunny. It's fabulous to be here. We just love it. I think I've spoken a few times -- I think four times! And we just keep coming back to this area. We love it.

I did meet Mitt in high school. We were high school sweethearts. Even then I saw greatness in him and knew he would be successful at whatever he put his mind to. There is a family motto that Mitt's father lived by and that's "Do your present job well." And everything I've seen Mitt do in our 37 years of marriage and four years of dating he did well. As a father -- extraordinary. He did well. As a husband, exceptional, I should say. When I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was pretty down, pretty depressed and pretty sick as well. The first couple of years were very rough. And he gave me the courage to go on. Looked at me and said, "I don't care how sick you are. I don't care if you're in a wheelchair. I love you for who you are." So that gave me the courage to dig deep and fight harder and fight that illness. He was with me, didn't abandon me during that difficult time.

And I look at his success in business -- do your present job well. Everything he touched he did well. And then when it came time to turn everything over and run and go out and do the Olympics, once again, he did his present job well. Then he came back and was governor of Massachusetts. Once again, he did the present job well. And now we've got another endeavor in front of us. He's giving it his all. And I, in my heart, believe he would be an exceptional president.

So my husband, my sweetheart, Mitt Romney. Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. ROMNEY: Wow!

This is kind of an unusual scene for someone from Massachusetts -- to see so many Republicans in one room. (Laughter.) Actually, the parade of officers felt like the entire state Republican party in my state of Massachusetts. And so it's such a great feeling! It's so wonderful having so many people who feel the same way about our country and our families and how we make our country strong.

I have to get used to being in unusual circumstances that are perhaps unpredictable for me. One of those was, of course, going out and running the Olympics. I was not a particularly gifted athlete. I'd never run a sporting event before. Ann told me I had to go out there and help turn the Olympics around. And one day behind our house in Park City, Utah I was walking along the road and I came across a farmer there that was raising sheep. And feeling somewhat sporting, I said to him, "If I can guess the exact number of sheep that you have in your herd, can I have one?"

He laughed and said, "Sure, go ahead."

I said, "Okay, 1,658."

He said, "Unbelievable! That's the exact number of sheep in my herd."

So I picked up my animal, began walking away. He said, "Wait a second. Wait a second. If I can guess your name and what you're doing here in Utah, can I have my animal back?"

I said, "Sure."

He said, "You're that Romney fellow that came here from Boston to run the Olympics, right?"

I said, "How'd you know?"

He said, "Put down my dog and I'll tell you." (Laughter.)

Sometimes I find myself in unusual circumstances. I hadn't planned to go out there to the Olympics. Ann talked me into it. She said it was more than a sporting event, and I became convinced that that was true. I recognized with time that the Olympics -- and I don't know how often you watch the games, but it's more than sport, because you don't watch bobsled 365 days a year, but you watch it during the Olympics. There's something else going on there. It's because you get to see in that crucible of competition some of the great qualities of the human spirit.

I heard the name Picabo Street. I wanted to meet her. Why did I want to meet her? Because she's so full of enthusiasm! That's why that woman became a gold medalist for the United States of America. I met one of my childhood heroes, Dan Jansen -- the guy who skated in four separate Olympics over a decade to finally get his gold medal. And I met my real heroes from the winter Olympic games: The men's hockey team of 1980. Some of you remember them -- yeah! (Applause.

)

I mentioned their name once a while ago in a speech and a fellow came up from the audience afterwards. He happened to be the head of a company called Medtronic that makes cardiac pacemakers. And he said to me, "Governor, I will never forget where I was when the USA men's hockey team -- you know, those amateurs -- played the professionals from the rest of the world and were playing Russia." He said, "I was flying from Germany to Italy when the Russian game was going on. I was so upset to miss it. But halfway through the flight, the Lufthansa pilot came over the air and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, in case there are any Americans onboard, they'll be happy to know the USA team just beat the Russians' -- I think he said three to two. And the three guys that were Americans stood up and applauded." And then he said, "The whole plane stood up and applauded." And the reason for that was that he said, "That team had inspired the whole world. They'd all watched this group of kids, college kids from the United States, take on the professionals from all over the world. And then to beat the Russians, go on to beat the Finns and win the gold medal -- it was just too much!"

I met the captain of the team, Mike Eruzione. The movie that's out, I guess about a year ago, called "Miracle" talks about Mike Eruzione. And I've heard Mike talk to some groups. He's often asked, what was the most memorable experience in your Olympics? He says, "It wasn't shooting the winning goal against the Russians, or even coming home with the gold. It was being honored to carry in the American flag to represent the nation that's the hope of the earth to the people of the world in that opening ceremony." Mike Eruzione. (Applause.)

I'm sorry to keep telling these Olympic stories, but June, you got me going with that music! I got to watch the athletes that would get their gold medals. You've seen that. The kids from all over the world. They get the gold medal put around their neck. They're on the high portion of the podium. They raise their flag and play their national anthem. And in general, they're high-fiving each other and all excited -- we're number one! We're number one!

And then when our kids are on that podium, that's not what they do. They put their hand on their hearts -- almost everyone. They put their hand on their heart as they watch the flag go up and our national anthem is played. And usually they sing the words or say the words to the National Anthem as well -- and sometimes they get them right. (Laughter.) And I've watched them. I've watched them when they're up there. A lot of them have tears running down their face. And if you ask them why, it's not because they're proud to be the best in the world in their sport. It's that they're proud to represent America -- the nation that's the hope of the world. There's something very special about this country we live in.

I was off this last spring in Afghanistan and Iraq -- feeling something very special about this land -- and got a chance to meet with the soldiers from my state that were serving in the National Guard or the Reserves or on active duty. And as I met with them I'd say to them, "If you'd like me to call our spouse when I get home, or your mom and dad, just give me a little card with your name, their name and a phone number." When I left Iraq, I had 92 cards. That's quite a stack of cards. And I got home just the night before Memorial Day. So Memorial Day morning I woke up and started calling. After about the third or fourth home, one of the wives I spoke with said to me, "Oh, I thought you might be calling." I thought, "Well, why's that?" She said, "Well, after you made the first call, that spouse e- mailed her husband in Iraq and told him that you had called. And he e-mailed his friends around Iraq and Afghanistan and they e-mailed their wives and told them you'd be calling." (Laughter.) So I called 92 homes that day. And I didn't reach everybody, but I reached most.

And I'll tell you, it warmed my heart. I had expected to hear a few people have a few complaints about what life was like in Iraq or Kuwait where a number of our soldiers were stationed, and also in Iraq. Not a single complaint. The only sentiment I ever heard was pride -- pride in their country. Pride to be doing what they thought was right. Proud to serve the land they feel is so very special.

I came back as well to go out to the Republican convention in Idaho. And my address was in a barn. It was a great event. Horses -- and these Republican conventions out West are something else. Rick, you've got to take a note on this: horses. They had women standing on saddles holding flags. It was a wonderful event. And after the horses left, I was the next to appear -- some thought appropriately -- and I got up on the stage and gave my address and I met the Republican National Committee man from Idaho -- and Cindy Costa knows him. His name is Blake Hall. Blake, I think, has six kids. He told me about his children and then he said his oldest son -- his oldest son had been serving in Iraq and was hit tragically by one of these improvised explosive devices that had been supplied, probably, by Iran. And the shrapnel from the device went into his head. And he said that he had received the Purple Heart. He'd come back to this country to undergo rehabilitation.

But he said, "The good news is he's completely rehabilitated about a year later.

I said, "That's great! What's he doing now?"

He said, "Oh, he signed up to go back again." (Applause.) There's something very special about this great land.

Now, we face some extraordinary challenges right now, as you know. The senator mentioned one or two of them. I'm going to underscore just a couple of them for a moment. One is of course this unusual thing, which I don't think all Americans understand, known as the jihad. It's the slice of the world of Islam, a slice of people who believe that all the moderate governments of Islam should be overthrown and replaced with a single religious leader, a caliphate. And that all the law should be Shari'a law and that people should be ruled by religious leaders.

For that to happy, of course, they have to not only bring down those governments, they need to bring down the superpower of the world that keeps the world order in check -- to a degree, that's us. And so they're intent on bringing down our government, our economy and our military. It may sound crazy -- they are crazy -- but they're not stupid. And they look at the weapons available in the world today -- nuclear technology spreading, proliferating. They look at the extended supply lines of our economy and the interconnectedness of our economy. And they say they can bring us down.

Into that scenario walks an extraordinary response from our president to the attack of 9/11. He goes after Afghanistan and knocks down al Qaeda there. Goes into Iraq and fights to bring down Saddam Hussein in way that was really startling, amazing to the world, as our military moved so quickly to take down such a large contingent of military and political leadership. (Applause.)

Now, it's true that following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government we've not done so well in managing the post-conflict. We didn't have, in my view, sufficient planning and preparation. We didn't have sufficient troops on the ground. And to a certain degree, we've contributed to some of the challenges we face, but we are where we are. And the question is, what do you do now?

In this consideration, I go back to the words of a senator from Michigan, Senator Vandenberg. He said, "Politics stops at the water's edge." Politics stops at the water's edge. Boy, I wish more people in Washington were thinking about what Senator Vandenberg said. Instead of talking about what we do now based on who gets points and what's popular, and let's look at the poll and then decide what our position is -- let's look at what's right for America. Some say let's just withdraw or divide the country up and let them go at it. Well, there are some challenges in doing that, some real risks, not only for a human conflagration of some kind, but also for ourselves.

You could have the southern portion of Iraq be grabbed by Iran. You could have the Sunni portion of Iraq become dominated by al Qaeda. You could have the Kurdish portion of Iraq destabilize the population -- the Kurdish population in Turkey and end up having other nations get involved. Even a regional conflict could begin involving others of our friends in the Middle East, and we could have to go back again with more troops and more risk.

Recognizing that -- recognizing that's not the course we take, the president and General Petraeus and al-Maliki have worked together to create a plan that would say, let's see if we can't add to the mission of our military in Baghdad the security of people there so that a central government can survive, so that we can have stability.

When it comes to this issue, putting politics aside, recognizing that it may not be popular, I believe the president's right. We need a troop surge. We need to support this government. (Applause.)

There's another dividing issue that relates to the jihadists and that's in Iran. We spend a lot of time thinking about Iraq. We're going to spend more time thinking about Iran as time goes on. This is a nation whose leaders have said some really extraordinary hateful things. They've spoken in genocidal terms. They've spoken of eliminating an entire country, our friend Israel. They've supplied jihadists in Iraq with improvised explosive devices and other tools that have killed our own servicemen and women.

Into that environment, Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards have said, let's have engagement with Iran. What that underscores is a lack of understanding. It underscores a certain timidity in dealing with someone who is doing something that is very, very bad. You don't want to reward bad behavior. Of course we always want to communicate and talk indirectly or other ways to learn what other people think and to exchange ideas. But engagement -- sitting down at a negotiating table with people who are developing a nuclear weapon, who are talking about use of genocidal techniques -- that's not something that America could possibly countenance. We don't want to give a signal of support or accomplishment to someone like Ahmadinejad. Instead, we want to tighten the economic sanctions.

Today, by the way, I wrote a letter to the comptroller of New York state -- a new comptroller. And said, "I hope you will take a very careful look at all the investments of your pension fund. I'd like to make sure that the pension funds in this country" -- and New York state in particular, in this letter -- "that your pension funds disinvest from companies doing business in Iran." We want to squeeze the pressure on that country and get them on the right track.

We face extraordinary challenges, but America is going to win this, because we're going to go beyond responding and reacting, but instead we're going to help lead all the nations of the world to help modern moderate Islam reject the extreme, recognize the whole world is looking for us to lead. They know our strength. They know our resolve. They know the capability of the American heart and they want to see us bring together the nations of the civilized world to not only show our military might, but also to show our compassion and heart and our willingness to move moderate modern Islamic nations to greater strength so that they can reject the extreme, because ultimately, it's the Muslims themselves that are going to have to reject the extreme and the violent and the jihadists from among them.

Now, we have other challenges as a nation and you know that. Some here domestically are pretty powerful. We're spending too much money in Washington. And thank heavens, that senator said, no! (Applause.) We're using too much oil from foreign places. Think of that -- we send hundreds of billions of dollars out of this country every year -- hundreds of billions every year to buy oil from people in many cases who don't like us. It's not good for our foreign policy. It's not good for our economy. It's probably not good for our planet's environment either. We've got to find a way to become energy independent in this country. It's going to take time. It's going to take resolve, but we can finally do it.

And then of course, there are -- (applause). Thank you -- (applause) -- the challenges in our schools. You know, if we're going to stay ahead of the world forever, we're going to have to have kids who are doing better than the other kids, whose skills in science and math and other endeavors succeed or surpass those of others around the world. Instead, our kids are not performing that well. We've got to raise the bar in education.

I'd like to see us help in health care. You know, there's no question about it: America's going to say, 45 million people without insurance. That's not the right way to go. And the Democrats always have an answer for these things, which is raise the size of government. That's not the right way to go. We've got to find a different answer. I'll tell you what it is in a second.

We've also got to deal with our own immigration problems. Why in the world we can't have a secure border is unknown to me. It's time to secure our border! (Applause.)

Now, you know, when America faces challenges people have to decide how we're going to respond to them. What are we going to do? Well, Washington typically gets involved in debate and partisan bickering and sniping and not a lot of action. It's time to get something done. Republicans have one course in mind, Democrats another. The Democrats think that the source of America's strength is its government, that America's such a great nation because we have such a great government. And we do have a great government, but that is not the source of America's strength. America's strength comes from the American people -- hardworking, motivated, educated, family- oriented, God-fearing, freedom loving, willing to seize opportunity. American people who will sacrifice for the future, lay down even their lives for this great country. The American people have always been the source of our strength and they always will be. (Applause.)

And so when Republicans see challenges we turn to the American people and we say, how do we make the American people freer? How can we give them more of their own money to spend? How can we give them more of their tools that they can be more successful on a global stage? Democrats say, oh, we've got a challenge here. How can we make government bigger? How can we have government take over for people? How can we have government protect people from themselves? It's a big dichotomy. Do you believe in more government, or do you believe in freeing the people of America?

Now, you look at something -- (applause) -- you look at something like health care. Right now you're listening to the Democrats. They're saying, oh we've got challenges in health care. It must be time for the government to take over. I can't imagine they're actually saying that. How in the world do they think government taking over 17 percent of the world -- of the U.S. economy is going to help America? Look what happens when government takes over more and more of a nation. Look at Europe -- as government gets bigger and bigger and taxes go up and up and they took over health care at other places. Well, their economy slows. Their unemployment rate's almost twice ours. They create almost no new jobs. If government takes over health care, those inimitable words of P.J. O'Rourke come to mind: "If you think health care's expensive now, wait till it's free." (Applause.)

We found a different answer -- an answer based upon personal responsibility principles. Republican principles that say if health care has challenges, let's see if we can't get it to act more like a market. Let's find solutions that exist within the private sector. Let's free people and free insurance companies to be able to offer products that people can afford. Let's get people insured the Republican way.

We're going to have this kind of dichotomy time and time again where Democrats want to put in place a welfare state with more spending, more taxes, more regulation and it'll take us right down the same drain that has always been taken by those who pursue a welfare state. And instead, there's the Republican way. And if you want to see a stronger nation, you say, how do we give people more freedoms? How do we give people more of their income? How do we give them great schools, great health care, but all based upon private enterprise and personal responsibility? And fundamentally at the base of how we strengthen our people is one key institution: The American family.

There is no place that is more important to the future strength of America than the American home. The work that goes on -- (applause) -- the work that goes on within the walls of the home is the most important work that's ever done in America. I have to tell you that I've had some interesting jobs during my life and done some thing I thought were pretty important. None of them compared to the job Ann did as mom. Nothing has been more important to my happiness and my success than what she's done as a mom raising those five boys. (Applause.)

And if we want to strengthen America, we've got to strengthen the American family. There are a lot of ways to do that. One of the ways to do that is by making sure that people get married before they have babies, and making sure we have moms and dads in homes. (Applause.) Faith, family, country, friends -- these are the things that we need to bring to our children, bring to homes to strengthen the homes of America so that we'll always have the strength to accomplish any challenge that might be before us.

I'm so optimistic about our future.

I've got to tell you, every time I think about all those challenges it gets me excited! Challenges always cause America to stand up and say, what do you want us to do? Where can we go? How can we overcome them? America looks for a leader to say, there's the vision. Here's the course we need to take. Follow me! And then America stands up and accomplishes what's ever necessary.

I get my faith when I go out and I meet people like you, people all over the country. Heroes I've met me throughout my life have convinced me that the American heart, the American people is and will always be the source of America's great future. I just want to end with one of my favorite experiences. I told a few of you about this about a year ago.

I was at a Boy Scouts court of honor -- a dinner. I was seated at the end of a long table, Formica table. And at the end of that table was an American flag. It looked like the one there on the right with the gold tassels on it. I was seated there next to it. And the guy at the podium was the Boy Scout leader from Monument, Colorado. And he was up talking about a flag his Boy Scout troop had that was very special. They bought a flag like that and he said they sent it to Washington, D.C. and asked for it to be flown above the United States Capital, which they did. Great experience. The boys got that flag back flown above the Capital.

Then the boys decided they wanted it to go on the space shuttle. So they contact NASA. NASA agreed. Their flag was going to go on the space shuttle. Can you imagine the price they had as they were sitting in their homerooms in elementary school and middle school as they watched the TV, watching that shuttle launch until it exploded on the TV screen before their eyes. And Scott Masters (sp) said he waited a few weeks and then he called NASA and said, have you found any remnants of our flag from that terrible explosion on Challenger flight 10? And they said, no. We haven't found anything.

And he called, he said, week after week after week for months. Finally gave up. And then one day, about nine months after the tragedy, he saw an article in some paper about debris from the Challenger disaster and it mentioned a flag. So he called NASA. And they said, indeed, they had a presentation to make to them. So the Boy Scouts went to Cape Kennedy from Colorado and they were presented with a watertight container. And they opened the container, and there inside was their flag in perfect condition. And the scoutmaster said, and that's it on the flagpole there next to Mr. Romney. And I reached over and touched that flag. I'll tell you, it was like electricity. I pulled the flag out along the side. The Scout troop has embroidered, "Challenger Flight 10, January 28th, 1986." And that electricity in my heart was because I thought of the sacrifice of Christa McAuliffe and the other astronauts aboard that tragic flight. And the other astronauts through the history of our program, the space program, that have lost their lives.

I think about the men and women who have fought for that flag, and for what that flag represents, and recognize that there's something very special about the American heart. People are willing to sacrifice for discovery and knowledge, to discover new frontiers. People are willing to sacrifice to protect our country, to protect our liberty. We live in a most extraordinary land with people of enormous character and passion and heart and love for this great land.

It is because of that character that I know that American is now the superpower on the planet and the hope of the world, and why it will always be the hope of people everywhere.

Thank you so very much. It's an honor to be with you. (Applause.)


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