NORTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO -- Mitt Romney on Thursday recast perhaps his favorite stump speech topic -- the central role of free enterprise in America's success -- as a moral issue, while also taking on President Obama's arguments about economic fairness.
"It is called the free enterprise system because we are both free to engage in enterprise and through those enterprises we ensure our freedom. But sadly, it has become clear that this president simply doesn’t understand or appreciate these fundamental truths of our economic system," Romney told an audience of several hundred supporters on a factory floor outside St. Louis.
"Over the last three and a half years, record numbers of Americans have lost their jobs or just disappeared from the work force, or can only find part time jobs. Record numbers of Americans are now living in poverty –- 46 million people. In this country. Living below the poverty line," Romney said. "This is not just a failure of policy; it is a moral failure of tragic proportion. Our government has a moral commitment to help every American help himself... And that commitment has been broken."
The former Massachusetts governor also used his morality argument to reframe President Obama's campaign for greater economic fairness.
"President Obama's vision is very different –- and deeply flawed. There is nothing fair about a government that favors political connections over honest competition and takes away your right to earn your own success," Romney said. "And there is nothing morally right about trying to turn government dependence into a substitute for the dignity of hard work."
Romney regularly casts himself as a defender of the free enterprise system and a champion of small business, and while he regularly speaks of the national debt as a moral issue, today's casting of free enterprise as morally good and the president's policies as morally bad was a rhetorical shift, performed before two of the campaign's own cameras, likely for a future television ad.
After the speech, Romney did not gloat about his Victory Fund's May fundraising totals, which surpassed those of the president's re-election campaign, telling reporters along the rope line that the campaign has "got a long way to go."
The presumptive GOP nominee also told reporters that he called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday night to congratulate him on his victory in the recall effort there. He did not respond to a follow up question about whether he could win Wisconsin outright. His campaign advisers say they view the Badger state with cautious optimism, as a place to go on offense, but that they don't have to carry to reach the White House in 2012.