WASHINGTON -- Former Minnesota governor and likely GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday that America needs to "turn towards God, not away from him."
In hard times, he said, it is particularly important to remember "the motto of our country: in God we trust."
Pawlenty, one of a number of potential presidential candidates speaking to roughly 11,000 conservative activists in Washington, opened his speech by quipping that President Obama had "done the impossible: He's proven that somebody can deserve a Nobel prize less than Al Gore."
Pawlenty said that while he doesn't question whether Mr. Obama is a U.S. citizen, the president's policies have caused him to wonder "what planet he's from."
Like other speakers, Pawlenty complained about comparisons in the media between Mr. Obama and former President Ronald Reagan. "Barack Obama is not behaving like Ronald Reagan," he said. "He's behaving like Jimmy Carter."
Pawlenty said the individual mandate in the health care law is "a page right out of the Jimmy Carter playbook."
Pawlenty said the health care law should be overturned, stating, "the bureaucrats don't tell us what to do, we the people tell the government what to do." (Earlier in the day, Mitt Romney, a likely Pawlenty rival who as Massachusetts governor signed into law a similar health care overhaul,.)
Pawlenty said "the policies of the left encroach every day on the very freedom that has made this country great." He called freedom "the very air we breathe."
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"We need more common sense and less Obama nonsense," said the former governor, adding: "The private sector, not the government, is the answer to job creation."
Pawlenty then said dealing with the budget deficit is "a matter of sixth grade math."
"I know there might be some Democrats in the room so I'll say it real slow: We can't spend more than we take in," said Pawlenty, who, like most other speakers, did not bring up the presidency of George W. Bush. He added: "Just because we followed Greece into democracy does not mean we have to follow them into bankruptcy."
Ignoring warnings that default could plunge the American economy into chaos, Pawlenty said America should not raise the debt ceiling. He called for a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget and said the tax code should be overhauled. Every member of Congress, he said, should be forced to do their own taxes so they understand the "moronic, burdensome, intimidating beast that our tax system has become."
Echoing Romney, Pawlenty called for President Obama to "stop apologizing for our country." He criticized Mr. Obama's foreign policy, saying it is one that makes America "appease and accommodate" enemies like Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood while undermining allies like Israel.
"Bullies respect strength, they don't respect weakness," he said.
Pawlenty also expressed incredulity that Americans said in a poll they expect China to be the dominant country in the world in two decades.
"America's place is not lagging behind China," he said. "America's place is leading the world."
Brian Montopoli is a senior political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here.