Reagan's First Speech Still Resonates, 47 Years Later

Thursday, 27 Oct 2011 09:21 AM

By Jackie Gingrich Cushman

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Today, everyday citizens find ourselves at a crossroads. Abandon the ideals of the American Revolution, or take control of our destiny. The American people are called to action. Every generation must decide if it wants to leave politics to the politicians — or whether we are ready for our rendezvous with destiny.

Forty-seven years ago this week, then-actor Ronald Reagan made his national political debut when he delivered what came to be known as "The Speech" in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

Confronted with many of the same problems we face today — a large deficit, growing national debt, and growth in government — Reagan's speech is as applicable today as it was in 1964.

Paid for by Brothers for Goldwater, which was chaired by John Wayne, the program was a half-hour television production delivered by Reagan to a studio audience.

The basis for the speech had been built from 1954 until 1962, when Reagan was traveling across the country as a spokesman for General Electric Co. On what Reagan liked to call the mashed-potato circuit, he honed his message.

The concept behind General Electric's program was the belief that citizens should be engaged in political education between elections rather than just during elections. Lemuel Boulware, a GE vice president who championed the program, said, "The average citizen cannot afford to leave politics to the politicians."

Reagan delivered the speech rapidly with passion and enthusiasm, and it is worth taking the time to watch it on YouTube today. What is most striking is the large number of facts that Reagan provides while weaving in his trademark humor and reminders of America's core beliefs.

The following Reagan messages are still applicable today:

"This idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man."

"This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.

"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 — (up) man's old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.

"A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose.

"We have so many people who can't see a fat man standing beside a thin one without coming to the conclusion the fat man got that way by taking advantage of the thin one. So they're going to solve all the problems of human misery through government and government planning.

"No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So governments' programs, once launched, never disappear . . . Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this Earth.

"Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy 'accommodation.' And they say if we'll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he'll forget his evil ways and learn to love us."

At the end of the speech, Reagan challenges his audience to be more, to do more, noting: "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We'll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we'll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness."

Nearly half a century later, the question remains a compelling one: Are we ready and willing to have our rendezvous with destiny?




© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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