Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.
(CNN) -- In politics, if you're not on offense, you're on defense.
Lately, Mitt Romney's campaign has been spending too much time on the defensive, fighting off allegations of outsourcing at Bain Capital, a suggestion from the Obama campaign that he might have committed a felony, and tax return demands. It's time to go on offense.
When it comes to Bain Capital, Romney shouldn't wallow in the vagaries of Securities and Exchange Commission filings or when his tenure ended or began. He should proudly trumpet his business experience in the private sector in its entirety.
Bain Capital used private money to invest in and rebuild companies. Some companies failed, but an even larger number succeeded, and those failures didn't leave the American taxpayers with the bill, like Solyndra.
Across the board, Romney had a "sterling business career," and those are President Bill Clinton's words, not mine. Would anyone say the same thing about President Barack Obama's tenure as the CEO of the American economy?
Being on offense means that Romney must proactively push his conservative bona fides, not with personal attacks against his opponent, but with bold, reasoned arguments that cast his vision as the preferred vision for the country. This means putting the tax return issue behind him one way or the other, either by releasing them in full or closing the door permanently. And this also means tackling head-on the areas he is most reluctant to address, particularly health care.
Borrowing from the wisdom of Mona Charen, Romney must explain to the American people that Romneycare was by no means the same as Obamacare. It was a state, not federal, mandate, and the law itself was less than 200 pages, while Obamacare was more than 2,000. Obama's plan involves more than 100 new boards and commissions; what could be one of the largest tax increases in American history; an unelected rationing board (the Independent Payment Advisory Board), whose role is to control Medicare costs; Department of Health and Human Services-mandated contraception coverage; cuts to Medicare; a massive expansion of Medicaid -- a system already burdened by high costs and poor care; a large expansion of the Internal Revenue Service; and an HHS secretary granted wide, ambiguous enforcement powers.
For those without insurance Romney preferred bond payments to a mandate. In particular, he vetoed an employer mandate, coverage for illegal immigrants and the Public Health Council, an Independent Payment Advisory Board-like bureaucracy. His vetoes were overridden by the Democratic Legislature, and his objections to the mandate disregarded. Romney did sign the original bill, and he can be faulted for not foreseeing the changes Democrats would make to it, but to consider Romneycare and Obamacare equals of any sort is wrong.
Romney's instincts in Massachusetts were conservative, and yet a large portion of the American public doesn't know that or thinks otherwise -- a problem that comes from letting the media or opponents set the terms of the debate. Rather than constantly fighting off fastballs, Romney needs to start throwing some of his own.
Ronald Reagan, with his candor and ever-sunny disposition, was a master at staying on offense by talking directly to the American people, not the talking heads. Romney can do the same and has demonstrated that already.
Last week at the NAACP convention in Houston, Romney delivered his best speech of the campaign so far. He spoke courageously, clearly and directly to the black community. "I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help millions of middle class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor in the first place. My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the president has set won't do that. My course will," Romney declared. Now that's going on offense.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.