Earlier today, Mitt Romney spoke at Warsaw University. The New York Times aptly described Romney’s speech as “lyrical,” as he talked about freedom and about the shared history of Poland and the United States. Having essentially been endorsed by Lech Walesa, Romney recalled the glory days of Solidarity in the 1980s:
In a turbulent world, Poland stands as an example and defender of freedom.
Only last month, in Gdansk, a sculpture was unveiled of President Reagan and John Paul the Second. As President Walesa told a reporter, “Reagan should have a monument in every city.”
Czeslaw Nowak, recalled the days in 1981 when he, Walesa, and others were imprisoned by the communist regime. Just when it felt like they might be forgotten by the world, the captives learned that in the White House, the President of the United States was lighting candles. It was a demonstration of unity with them – a sign of solidarity. “When Reagan lit the candles,” Mr. Nowak recalled, “we knew we had a friend in the United States.”
But the substantive heart of Romney’s speech was his praise for the free-market path that Poland has chosen after experiencing the nightmare of socialism:
Perhaps because here in Poland centralized control is no distant memory, you have brought a special determination to securing a free and prosperous economy. When the Soviet Empire breathed its last, Poland’s economy was in a state of perpetual crisis. When economists analyzed it from abroad, one heard talk of the prospect of starvation in major cities.
But from the depths of those dark times, this nation’s steady rise is a shining example of the prosperity that economic opportunity can bring. Your nation has moved from a state monopoly over the economy, price controls, and severe trade restrictions to a culture of entrepreneurship, greater fiscal responsibility, and international trade. As a result, your economy has experienced positive growth in each of the last twenty years. In that time, you have doubled the size of your economy. The private sector has gone from a mere 15 percent of the economy to 65 percent. And while other nations fell into recession in recent years, you weathered the storm and continued to flourish.
When economists speak of Poland today, it is not to lament chronic problems, but to describe how this nation empowered the individual, lifted the heavy hand of government, and became the fastest-growing economy in all of Europe.
Yesterday, one of your leaders shared with me an economic truth that has been lost in much of the world: “It is simple. You don’t borrow what you cannot pay back.”
The world should pay close attention to the transformation of Poland’s economy. A march toward economic liberty and smaller government has meant a march toward higher living standards, a strong military that defends liberty at home and abroad, and an important and growing role on the international stage.
Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade, and live within its means. Your success today is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society.
With the U.S. at a crossroads, Romney is right to remind not just Poles, but American voters that the alternative to free enterprise is poverty and oppression.
As I wrote yesterday, Romney’s seven-day overseas trip has been successful, but its press coverage has been almost bizarrely hostile. I couldn’t find anything in today’s speech out of which reporters can gin up a controversy, but no doubt they will try.
On Fox News this morning, Romney responded to the skewed press coverage of his trip: