Remarks at a Springfield Veterans for Romney Event in Springfield, Virginia
Thank you. Wow, what a group here. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so very much. What an honor to be here with you today. Thank you. [cheers and applause] Members of the American Legion, thank you. Thank you for your service. A real honor. Please, please.
Secretary Nicholson, thank you for that generous introduction — a Marine, a veteran of — of Vietnam and our conflict there. Appreciate his leadership in our country and his commitment to veterans. He was kind to be here today and to — to welcome me.
Thank you also to Colonel Leo Thorsness, Medal of Honor recipient. Colonel Thorsness, would you stand and be recognized here? [applause] We appreciate your being here today, sir. Thank you. Thank you. [applause]
You perhaps know Colonel Thorsness served in Vietnam, was a prisoner of war for six years there. He has — has led the Association of Medal of Honor Recipients and he has been kind enough to help organize many of them for me. Some 42 of them have joined my effort, endorsed my campaign. And I appreciate your service in this campaign, but even more, I appreciate your service for our — to our country and for our country.
I — in listening to Secretary Nicholson, I recalled some of those experiences of sending off our men and women in uniform to go off and — into Iraq and Afghanistan. There was one in particular that stands out, and this was a — a ceremony where quite a large number of men and women were on their way out. The families were behind them in the — in the bleachers, and the soldiers were seated in front. And their commanding officer spoke, and I spoke.
And at one point after we were finished a hand went up. And — and I recognized the person who raised his hand, and he said, I have a young lady that I'm in love with, and we haven't been married, and I'm going to go off to conflict. Could you marry us? [laughter] And I said, I don't see why not — [laughter] — and called the two of them forward, in front of the entire audience, brought them up and pronounced a wedding ceremony. I figured I was the governor; I could do whatever the heck I wanted to. [laughter]
And so — [chuckles] — so I married these two, and when I got back to the office, they said, you know, there's this thing called a marriage license. Did you know about that, Governor? [laughter] And — [chuckles] — we were able to take care of all those things and make sure that it was legitimate.
But what a — what a privilege to be able to be there and to send off men and women who love their country. I am — I'm privileged today in the presence of those who have served their nation, who, in the words of that wonderful hymn, "O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved and mercy more than life." [applause]
I — I had also an honor last night. I was in Toledo, Ohio, and was leaving from Toledo to come here, and at the airport there was an Honor Flight returning to Toledo. And so, wanting to see those veterans, I parked myself over by their aircraft. And as they began coming down the — the — the plane — so it wasn't actually steps, but a kind of a gangway kind of thing. They came walking down, and I was able to shake hands with a number of them and say hello.
And — and then towards the end, the wheelchair brigade came along, because those that walked came out first, and then the wheelchairs later. And — and there were — the last couple were — were the most difficult, I — I think, physically to be able to leave the aircraft.
The — the second to the last individual stands out in my mind. He was brought down, quite elderly, a second world war veteran. And apparently, they had some difficulty just arranging the wheelchair of the aircraft and getting him in it and bringing it down this long gangway. And finally, he came down and I — I — I said hello to him and shook his hand.
And then he turned to — to go through this long alleyway that had been set up of flags and people who were there to recognize each of the veterans. But he stopped the person who was pushing them — pushing him in the wheelchair. And then he reached inside his coat and took out a flag —
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Aww.
MR. ROMNEY: — and waved it. And we all applauded. [applause]
The love of country, the patriotism that's felt by those who served our country is something which inspires all of us to this day. And I appreciate the service of each of the men and women in this room who've served our nation in uniform and appreciate those who are serving our nation today and those who've served in the past all over this great country.
Now I'm concerned about the future. I'm concerned about America.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah.
MR. ROMNEY: I'm concerned about the direction America's headed.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Right.
MR. ROMNEY: The — the White House proposed a sequestration, kind of a gun-to-your-head opportunity, which is if Congress couldn't get the job done properly and the president couldn't lead them, why, they'd make devastating cuts to our military. It's a strange proposal in the first place. It's even stranger that it's being put in place. As Secretary Nicholson indicated, the impact will — will be immediate and significant right here in Virginia. A hundred and thirty-six thousand jobs will be lost in Virginia as a result of this move.
But when the secretary of defense said it would be devastating, he wasn't referring merely to the loss of jobs in Virginia or any other state, for that matter. He was thinking about our national security priorities and needs. The world is not a safe place. It remains dangerous.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Right.
MR. ROMNEY: Look around the world. Look in — look in North Korea. They continue to develop and — and promote nuclear capability on their own part and to export it to others.
Syria — 20(,0000), 30,000 people killed in Syria.
Iran, closer and closer to having nuclear capability.
Egypt, now with a Muslim Brotherhood president.
Pakistan, highly tumultuous.
Afghanistan — our men and women still in Afghanistan. You — I mean, you keep going around the world. It is still a troubled and dangerous world, and the idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating. And when I become president of the United States, we will stop it. I will not cut our commitment to our military. [cheers and applause]
Now, you know — you know that these trillion-dollar cuts, both in budget and in sequestration, will have a significant impact on the veterans' system as well, as the secretary just indicated. We already have extraordinary backlogs, a million people backlogged for disability claims. A million people. I understand that they had so many claims piled up in one building here in Virginia that the building became structurally unsound and they had to get the people out of it. [laughter] I mean this — how can this be?
And we have huge numbers of our men and women that are returning from conflict that are seeking counseling, psychological counseling, and can't find that counseling within our system, and of course record numbers of suicides. This is a crisis. And in this kind of circumstance, given the challenges and threats around the world, given the need for employment here and given the need of our veterans, how in the world, as commander in chief, you could stand by as we shrink our military commitment financially is something I don't understand, and I will reverse it. [applause]
Now, I know there's waste in the military. I'm sure there's opportunity to economize and do a better job with the funds we have, and I expect to go after the Department of Defense and look in every single corner and see if we can't do things in a more efficient way than we've done them in the past. That being said, I want to take the resources we save and use them to make sure we care for our veterans in the way they deserve to be cared for, and that we also rebuild our technological capabilities, including our cyber capabilities, but also our ships and aircraft.
Do you realize we have fewer ships in the Navy than anytime since 1917? Now down to the 280s — we were told the minimum number of ships we needed was 313. And the ship number's going to keep coming down unless we recommit to rebuilding our modern Navy.
Our Air Force is older and smaller than anytime since 1947, when it was formed. This is unacceptable. And the idea of shrinking our active-duty personnel by 1(00,000) or 200,000 — I want to add a hundred thousand to active-duty personnel. [applause] I happen to subscribe to Ronald Reagan's maxim that peace comes through strength. I want to have a military that's so strong, no one wants to test it — [inaudible]. [cheers and applause]
And there's a long-term threat to our military capability and to our national security, and it relates to something that fuels and builds our military, and that's our economy. You have to have a strong economy in order to build a strong military. Russia tried for a while — the old Soviet Union tried for a while to maintain a grade A, if you will, military, but they had a grade B economy, and they couldn't keep up. They finally had to — well, they collapsed. We have to have a strong economy.
Right now Russia's economy is growing at about 4 percent per year. That's their GDP growth. Ours was just revised last quarter down to 1.3 percent per year, about a quarter or a fifth the rate of — of Russia's. This is — this is a real challenge for us. And this is not just one quarter. This has been going on now for years. China's growing much faster than we. Russia's growing faster than we. Our economy needs to be reinvigorated. And the president has laid out his plan.
It's a continuation of the old plan. [boos] We can't afford four more years of the last four years. [boos] All right? [applause] It — his plan cuts the military. His plan asks for another stimulus. How'd that last one work, by the way? [laughter] His plan calls for government being able to invest in winners and losers or, in their case, losers. And — [laughter] — and his plan also calls for trillion-dollar deficits. Recognize trillion-dollar deficits — that debt is owned by somebody. Someone holds that. That puts America in a position of — of economic risk, fiscal risk. Do you know how much money is spent on interest every year?
By the way, interest rates are real low. And one of the reasons they're so low is that as the government goes out to get — to borrow money, the Federal Reserve takes it and just puts it in their pockets. So we're — in effect, we're manufacturing money. So we keep the interest rates real low. Even with the interest rates real low, we spend more on interest as taxpayers, paying the government debt, than we spend on housing, agriculture, education and transportation combined. It's huge. And it's going to get a lot bigger, particularly if every year we add another trillion dollars to the deficit.
This is a — this is an extraordinary challenge that faces America's economy and America's military long term and our foreign policy. I've heard time and again from former members or — excuse me — from former secretaries of state that our diplomatic power and our military power flows from our economic power.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Right.
MR. ROMNEY: With our economy struggling, that is a long-term trend which is unacceptable to America.
Now I have a very different approach. I have five things I'm going to do to get this economy going. And they're going to create 12 million jobs. I'm not going to be cutting jobs from Virginia, I'm going to be adding jobs to Virginia. [cheers and applause]
So we're going to — and those — those things include, number one, taking advantage of our energy resources — our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables — [cheers and applause] — getting North America energy independent. That will keep our gasoline prices more moderate. It will also provide us with a lot of jobs in the energy sector and in manufacturing because when energy is less expensive, manufacturing will come home. That's number one.
Number two, I like trade. I want to make sure that we open up new markets for us to trade and sell our goods into around the world. But when nations cheat in trade — and China has cheated — I will finally do something the president has not been willing to do, which is call them on the carpet for it and label them currency manipulators. [applause] That's number two.
First, energy; second, trade. Number three, we got to make sure that our people have the skills they need to succeed, so training programs for our adults have to be updated and modernized and linked with what employers need.
And we also have to make sure our schools are giving our kids the skills they need. It's unacceptable, in my view, for the nation that invented public education to have kids performing now in the bottom third or bottom quartile of the world. That can't happen. And I know what we have to do. We have to make sure we put the interest of the kids and the parents and the teachers first, and the teachers' union is going to have to go behind. [cheers and applause]
Number four — number four, you know, we can't keep on spending and borrowing, spending more than we have. We keep doing that year after year after year, you put America on track to becoming Greece or Italy or Spain. We're becoming weaker and weaker, fundamentally, economically. And nations around the world are looking and seeing what we're doing, surprised that we're not willing to take action.
If I become president, I will make it my priority in my first hundred days to take action to get America on track to getting a balanced budget. We've got to do it. [cheers and applause]
And number five, number five, we have to champion small business. We have to make it easier for small businesses to grow and thrive. [cheers and applause] That's where about — about two-thirds of the jobs created in America over the last 15 years were created by small business. I want small businesses to grow and — and be able to hire more people and, by the way, to pay higher wages.
Do you realize over the last four years the median income in America has dropped every single year? So not only are there 23 million people struggling to find a good job and half our college kids not able to find work or work consistent with a college degree, but incomes are going down. At the same time, food prices are up; electric prices are up; gasoline prices have doubled. These are tough times for the American people. And the answer to help the American people is to get small business growing again, hiring people again, raising wages again. [cheers and applause] I know how to do it. We're going to do that.
Now, and as the secretary said, my plans include pro-growth tax policies, regulatory policies that encourage small business. And by the way, I want to take this big cloud off of small business that's keeping about three-quarters of them from hiring people, and that is I got to get rid of "Obamacare" and replace it with something that works. [cheers and applause]
So two — two very different paths. One is the path the president's proposed, which is the status quo. His is the path of — well, he calls it "Forward." I call it "forewarned," all right? [laughter] All right? It is the same series of policies he's put in place over the last four years, and they have not worked.
And — and if you don't — don't believe me, why, look at the price of gasoline, and — and — and look at the — the jobs in your community and the — the members of your family that are struggling for good work. If you don't believe me, look at the numbers that just came out and the growth of our economy: 1.3 percent versus Russia at 4 percent? China at 7 (percent) to 8 percent? We're at 1.3 percent.
This is — this is unacceptable. It is not working. I know what it takes to get us working. He's put us on a road to Europe. Europe doesn't work in Europe, all right? [laughter] I want to get us back to being America, where people here come here, build enterprises here, we fulfill American dreams and we keep the hope alive in America. [applause]
And this matters. You know this matters. This counts. It counts for the 23 million people who are struggling to get a job or get a better job today. It counts for the young people coming out of school hoping to get a job when they come out of school, and one that will help them pay back their student loans. It counts for the coming generations.
We have always been a nation that has recognized that the future is brighter than the past. Today we wonder whether that's true, but the majority of Americans don't think that's the case. This matters.
And there's one more sense in which it matters, and it's what I began with, and that is our military capability, our ability to defend our liberty and the liberty of our friends around the world with whom we trade and whose prosperity is linked with our prosperity.
I was — I was in Poland a few weeks ago, and I got the chance — chance to meet Lech Walesa, also a hero. And — [applause] — I came in and he said, Mr. Romney, you've just come from the United States. He said, you must be tired. You sit. I'll talk. You listen. [laughter] And so I did. And — and then he said this. For about 15 minutes he said this and repeated it again and again: Where's American leadership? We need American leadership. Where's American leadership? And then he'd talk about a — a region of the world and what was happening in that region, and then he'd say, where's American leadership? And then he'd go to another region, talk about the challenges there. Where's American leadership?
Look, the world has always looked to us as that shining city on a hill, but that light looks a little dimmer in some people's minds these days, in part because we haven't been willing to deal with the challenges we have. We keep kicking them down the road and hoping that — that somehow somebody else will deal with it.
Well, that time is now ours. This is the greatest generation, that left us this nation so prosperous and so free. Now it's our turn. They've held the torch aloft for the whole world to see, a torch of freedom and opportunity and hope. But they're getting fewer and further between, the greatest generation. They can't hold the torch quite as high as they used to. And so it's our turn to grab that torch and to hold it aloft for the world to see.
And if I become president — no, when I become president, as I say — [cheers and applause] — we're going to do what has to do — what we have to do. We're going to do what we have to do to get that torch high and very, very bright indeed. We're going to make sure and restore the principles this nation was built upon of freedom and opportunity. We're going to make sure and restore our economy and put people back to work, get rising take-home pay again, and we're going to make sure we have a military that is second to none.
I will do those things. I look forward to being the commander in chief, to being able to keep this nation strong. I make that commitment to you. [applause] I need your help. We've got to win in Virginia. I need your help to get the veterans here. We'll keep America the hope of the earth.
Thank you so very much. Thank you. [cheers and applause]
Mitt Romney, Remarks at a Springfield Veterans for Romney Event in Springfield, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/316000