BEDFORD, N.H. -- Speaking before a crowd of more than 150 supporters Tuesday night, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney laid out a stark choice of visions for America and said the selection of the next president is a matter of choosing America's destiny.
"This America of long unemployment lines and small dreams is not the America you and I love. It is not a live free or die America. These troubled years are President Obama’s legacy, but they are not our future," Romney said. "This is an election not to replace a president but to save a vision of America, It’s a choice between two destinies."
The remarks were the clearest articulation yet of Romney's "closing argument," which the former Massachusetts governor has been test-driving for weeks. It proposes that America must choose between a society based on entitlements under President Barack Obama, or a society based on merit, risk and growth, under Romney’s leadership.
"In a merit-based society, people achieve their dreams through hard work, education, risk-taking, and even a little luck. An opportunity society produces pioneers and inventors; it inspires its citizens to build and create. As these people exert effort and take risks, they employ and lift others and create prosperity. Their success does not make others poorer, it makes others better off," Romney said. "President Obama sees America differently. He believes in an entitlement society."
Romney called an entitlement society one in which everyone is more equal, but everyone is worse off.
"President Obama’s entitlement society would demand a massive growth of government. To preserve opportunity, we must shrink government, not grow it," Romney said.
The speech, which was lit and staged with television cameras in mind, did not mention any of Romney's GOP rivals, focusing on Romney’s vision and on Obama.
"I have a vision of a very different America, an America united not by our limits but by our ambitions, our hopes and our shared dreams. I am tired of a president who wakes up every day, looks out across America and is proud to announce, ‘It could be worse.’ It could be worse?" Romney asked rhetorically. "Is that what it means to be an American? It could be worse? No. If I am president I will wake up every day and remind Americans that not only must we do better but also that we can do better! I believe in America!"
Romney later accused Obama of inverting President John F. Kennedy's famous call to service.
"President Barack Obama has reversed John Kennedy's call for sacrifice. He would have Americans ask, ‘What can the country do for you?’" Romney said.
Within an hour of the speech's conclusion, Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt issued a statement defending the president's record and argued that Romney's stated positions were a smokescreen for an agenda designed to help only Wall Street and the most well-to-do.
“Only a candidate like Mitt Romney could give a speech like this with a straight face. Governor Romney claims to want to level the playing field to create opportunity, but all his policies do is stack the deck against the middle class. He has repackaged the same policies that caused the economic crisis and led to the insecurity middle class families have been facing," LaBolt said. "The president is fighting to build an economy where hard work and responsibility are rewarded, everyone plays by the same rules whether on Wall Street or Main Street, and economic security for the middle class is restored.”
Romney, who recent polls show is now locked in a dead heat with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich nationally, is on a four-day, 10-stop bus tour across New Hampshire, his most vital early primary state, to sell his message and to attempt to solidify his formidable lead here. Next week, he'll be in Iowa for a three-day swing.
After the official speech ended and the applause died down, Romney re-took the microphone Tuesday night to urge his supporters to begin the hard work of actually turning out the votes in New Hampshire.
"We don't have a long time to go," Romney told the crowd, urging them to make calls and talk to their friends.
"We want to win in New Hampshire," he said.