WASHINGTON -- Former Massachusetts governor and likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney harshly criticized President Obama for his economic policy at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday, saying modern job fairs and unemployment lines are Obama's "Hoovervilles."
The reference was to the Depression-era shantytowns built by homeless people during the presidency of Herbert Hoover.
Romney also criticized the president for saying the economic crisis could have been worse without the policies of his administration. "What's next - let them eat cake?" Romney asked rhetorically, to cheers from a wildly enthusiastic audience of conservative activists.
He added: "Excuse me, let them eat organic cake?"
Gone unmentioned in Romney's speech was the health care law he signed as Massachusetts governor, which is similar to the health care law signed by Mr. Obama last year. Romney has struggled to articulate the differences between his law and the "Obamacare" law that has caused such outrage among conservatives.
Romney's short speech was punctuated by quips, particularly when it came to Mr. Obama's State of the Union address, which Romney said sounded like his CPAC speech from the previous year.
(Watch Romney talk about "change" at left.)
"He sounded like he was going to dig up the first lady's organic garden and put in a Bob's Big Boy," Romney said - before stating the speech reflected just the "appearance of change."
He eventually realized, he said, that "what we're watching is not 'Brave New World.' What we're watching is 'Groundhog Day.'"
(At left, watch Romney poke fun at Mr. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama's White House garden.)
Romney called the current economic situation a "moral tragedy of epic proportions," arguing that "liberals should be ashamed that they and their policies have failed these good and decent Americans." He criticized the Obama administration for seeking a "European-style solution to an American problem."
"President Obama has stood watch over the greatest job loss in modern American history. And that, my friends, is one inconvenient truth that will haunt this president throughout history," Romney said. He called the administration's response to the economic crisis the "most expensive failed social experiment in modern history."
Read All of Hotsheet's Reports from CPAC
Romney also made a strong case for American exceptionalism, stating, "I will not and I will never apologize for America." He criticized the Obama administration's foreign policy on Iran and Afghanistan, arguing that "an uncertain world has been made more dangerous by a lack of clear direction from a weak president."
Romney, who ran for president in the 2008 cycle, received a warm welcome from the young conservative activists gathered for the conference, who seem to have largely gotten over their past concerns about his relatively moderate record as Massachusetts governor. But his decision not to address the health care law will raise further questions about whether he will be able to fend off criticism over the issue in a GOP primary.
Brian Montopoli is a senior political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here.