Mitt Romney’s pitch to Mason City: More American than Obama, less out-of-touch

Mitt Romney surrounded by media. ()
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Ben Jacobs

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MASON CITY, Iowa— There was trouble in Mason City, and a confident, well-coiffed man had come to tell its citizens that he could take care of it.

Mitt Romney came to this municipality of 30,000, which was famously fictionalized in The Music Man, to warn not of billiards but of a “European entitlement culture” and a Democratic president who wants to impose it on America.

He appeared in a building called Music Man Square, emblazoned with famous quotes from the musical like “76 trombones in a marching band.” On the outside, it looked otherwise like an unremarkable modern block. Inside, it was a mock street-scape with fake storefronts mimicking those from the musical. It is, in other words, a set, built in the hopes of drawing tourists to this otherwise unremarkable place eight miles off the Interstate and a half-hour south of the Minnesota border.

At the Mason City event, as at a subsequent rally in an industrial warehouse on the outskirts of Ames, Romney was introduced by his wife, Ann, who testified to his abilities and reminisced about having to raise their five mischievous sons.

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She talked about how they would “wrestle, bounce balls, see how they could jump and never clean the kitchen,” and about how they would drive her crazy. If she left them alone in the house for one hour, she would have to spend a full hour cleaning up after her return; if she left the house for two hours, it would take two. But she said that her husband Mitt always reassured her “your job is more important than mine. . . My job is temporary. Yours is forever. And forever is more important.”

She was grateful for a husband who was so “steady” and “reliable.”

An unscientific survey of the crowds at both events revealed, unsurprisingly, that most of the attendees were primarily concerned with the economy, and with making ends meet.

Laura Grant of Ames was worried about how to help her daughter, a freshman at Iowa State, pay for college when her husband’s salary had been in half.

John and Bruce Halleland, a father and son who owned a lumberyard in Story City, were worried about the economic impact if a national sales tax was implemented.

Steve Goodhue, a banker from Ames, was worried about overregulation of business.

Romney's response to these concerns, both in Mason City and later in Ames, could be boiled down to: America is great, but it needs saving.

He told the crowd that he not only “loved America” but that he loved its songs as well. He proceeded to quote extensively from “America the Beautiful” and used it to pay tribute to the “heroes proved in liberating strife” as well the “patriot dream” of founders. Also, in a customized nod to his hosts, he said he believed that corn should count as “amber waves of grain.”

At the Mason City event, Romney also recited the first four verses of the late-19th-century work of the poet-librarian Sam Walter Foss, “Bring Me Men to Match My Mountains.” He added a little bit of literary interpretation to the recitation, explaining that the line “men with empires in their purpose” was to be understood as “not about conquest” but about innovation and individual initiative.

And Romney mentioned a favorite arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner" that he had performed at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

What Romney was driving at, he eventually revealed, is that the United States “can’t be more like Europe with debt rising until we become like Greece or Italy.” Instead, the U.S. must “hold fast to its principles.”

After all, if “Europe isn’t working as Europe,” we shouldn’t model ourselves on a continent where “income was 50 percent of that in the United States.”

Unlike President Obama, Romney said, he understood that the United States “was a powerful engine of economic growth and moral strength.”

He said he was against anything that would change this, and was therefore against a president who “wants to fundamentally transform the United States. I don’t. I want to restore our principles.”

In Ames, Romney, who is regularly mocked by opponents for being an out-of-touch rich guy, even went so far as to compare Obama to the most famously out-of-touch European leader of them all, Marie Antoinette.

He said he was outraged that Obama has said of America's economic condition that “it could have been worse.“ (He was referring to Obama's pundit-panned defense of the stimulus.)

“It’s like saying 'let them eat cake,'” said Romney.

By contrast, Romney said, he believed in “the unity of one nation under God” and wanted to “save the soul of America.”

Randy Marshall, from Boone, was skeptical of Romney coming into the Ames rally. He liked both Romney and Rick Perry and thought Rick Santorum “sounds good but I don’t know if he’s electable.” But, Marshall said, there was just was “no magic candidate that lights you up.”

After the event, Marshall said he felt a lot more comfortable with him. He said he thought Romney was a “true American.”

Ben Jacobs is a frequent contributor to the Boston Globe. He will be filing Iowa dispatches for Capital throughout the week.