50 years ago today, Ronald Reagan gave a speech that 'changed America forever'

A very nice tribute in the Daily Beast by Stuart Stevens, former Romney advisor and Republican political consultant, to a speech that Stevens says, "changed America."

"A Time for Choosing," Ronald Reagan's wildly successful and impactful half hour paid ad for Barry Goldwater, is 50 years old today. As Stevens discovered, the speech almost didn't happen:

Not surprisingly, some around Barry Goldwater thought it was a lousy idea.  “A few days before the speech was scheduled to go on the air,” Reagan later wrote, “I got a call from Barry Goldwater. He sounded uneasy and a little uncomfortable. Some of his advisers, Barry said, wanted him to use the airtime that had been purchased for my speech to rebroadcast a videotape of a meeting he’d had at Gettysburg with Ike Eisenhower.”

Reagan knew the speech worked in front of a Republican audience and was savvy enough in the ways of television to appreciate the awfulness of the proposed replacement. “I’d seen the film showing Barry’s meeting with Eisenhower at Gettysburg and didn’t think it was all that impressive,” Reagan wrote in a nice bit of understatement. Reagan made the case for his speech, and Goldwater was persuaded.

Reagan's powerful speech tapped an emotional wellspring in all Americans regardless of party. And GOP heavyweights were astonished when the reaction to the speech resulted in an outpouring of cash for the Goldwater campaign. Election chronicler Theodore H. White recalls in his book "America in Search of Itself" that senior citizens had signed over their Social Security checks to the campaign following the speech. Small donations of $5 or $10 overwhelmed the volunteers charged with counting the money. The Gipper had not only plugged into the American psyche, he had opened their wallets. That, more than anything, convinced the GOP moneymen that Reagan could win the governorship.

Stevens recalls some of the memorable quotes:

It was a deeply contrarian speech when the hope of a “Great Society” was at a peak, when it was still possible to believe we could win decisively in Vietnam and housing projects were a sure stepping stone to a better life.

“If government planning and welfare had the answer, shouldn't we expect government to read the score to us once in a while?” Reagan asked, “Shouldn't they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? But the reverse is true. Each year, the need grows great, the program grows greater.”

All good speeches have a consistent theme, and Reagan’s was mistrust of government and faith in the individual. As he would later prove in sweeping victories, it was a message he believed transcended ideology and party.

“I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines,” he said, reminding the audience of his history as a Democrat. “You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down.” 


Read today, the speech still vibrates with a passionate intensity rarely found in any contemporary political discourse. This wasn’t a focused-grouped, calculated appeal to different constituencies. It was the voice of one man, deeply troubled by the course of his nation. Just as the Gettysburg Address was written without expectation that it would find greatness, Reagan’s speech was not intended to launch a career or a movement. It was a message from the heart.

Also, some good commentary from John Fund at The Corner.

But you don't want to know what I or anyone else thinks of the speech. Make up your own mind about it.

A very nice tribute in the Daily Beast by Stuart Stevens, former Romney advisor and Republican political consultant, to a speech that Stevens says, "changed America."

"A Time for Choosing," Ronald Reagan's wildly successful and impactful half hour paid ad for Barry Goldwater, is 50 years old today. As Stevens discovered, the speech almost didn't happen:

Not surprisingly, some around Barry Goldwater thought it was a lousy idea.  “A few days before the speech was scheduled to go on the air,” Reagan later wrote, “I got a call from Barry Goldwater. He sounded uneasy and a little uncomfortable. Some of his advisers, Barry said, wanted him to use the airtime that had been purchased for my speech to rebroadcast a videotape of a meeting he’d had at Gettysburg with Ike Eisenhower.”

Reagan knew the speech worked in front of a Republican audience and was savvy enough in the ways of television to appreciate the awfulness of the proposed replacement. “I’d seen the film showing Barry’s meeting with Eisenhower at Gettysburg and didn’t think it was all that impressive,” Reagan wrote in a nice bit of understatement. Reagan made the case for his speech, and Goldwater was persuaded.

Reagan's powerful speech tapped an emotional wellspring in all Americans regardless of party. And GOP heavyweights were astonished when the reaction to the speech resulted in an outpouring of cash for the Goldwater campaign. Election chronicler Theodore H. White recalls in his book "America in Search of Itself" that senior citizens had signed over their Social Security checks to the campaign following the speech. Small donations of $5 or $10 overwhelmed the volunteers charged with counting the money. The Gipper had not only plugged into the American psyche, he had opened their wallets. That, more than anything, convinced the GOP moneymen that Reagan could win the governorship.

Stevens recalls some of the memorable quotes:

It was a deeply contrarian speech when the hope of a “Great Society” was at a peak, when it was still possible to believe we could win decisively in Vietnam and housing projects were a sure stepping stone to a better life.

“If government planning and welfare had the answer, shouldn't we expect government to read the score to us once in a while?” Reagan asked, “Shouldn't they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? But the reverse is true. Each year, the need grows great, the program grows greater.”

All good speeches have a consistent theme, and Reagan’s was mistrust of government and faith in the individual. As he would later prove in sweeping victories, it was a message he believed transcended ideology and party.

“I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines,” he said, reminding the audience of his history as a Democrat. “You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I'd like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There's only an up or down.” 


Read today, the speech still vibrates with a passionate intensity rarely found in any contemporary political discourse. This wasn’t a focused-grouped, calculated appeal to different constituencies. It was the voice of one man, deeply troubled by the course of his nation. Just as the Gettysburg Address was written without expectation that it would find greatness, Reagan’s speech was not intended to launch a career or a movement. It was a message from the heart.

Also, some good commentary from John Fund at The Corner.

But you don't want to know what I or anyone else thinks of the speech. Make up your own mind about it.