Steven F. Hayward begins The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980 with “the seemingly small scene” of Ronald Reagan in the studio about to make a nationally televised speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater. The speech was titled “A time for choosing”; it would also be known as “the Speech.”
Hayward quotes Reagan: “We 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.” Referring to these lines, Hayward writes of “the Speech”: “Its most memorable lines were borrowed from Franklin Roosevelt and Lincoln.” Reagan also invoked the words of John Winthrop about America being “a shining city on a hill.” Hayward adds: “‘The Speech’ would echo in American politics for 30 years, with Reagan repeating the ‘rendezvous with destiny’ and ‘shining city on a hill’ themes countless times.”
It was, according to David Broder and Stephen Hess in 1967’s The Republican Establishment, “the most successful national political debut since William Jennings Brian electrified the 1896 Democratic Convention with the ‘Cross of Gold’ speech.” As Hayward writes: “A star was born — except [Reagan] was already a star.”
Watching “the Speech” these many years later, I am struck by a couple of things. First, the speech is extraordinarily hard hitting. Could a conservative politician with presidential aspirations give this speech today? I wonder. Even at the time, some of Goldwater’s advisers counseled against letting Reagan give “the Speech” on Goldwater’s behalf. See Rick Perlstein’s Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus.
Second, there is a tone of anger or indignation that permeates Reagan’s delivery. This is not, or not simply, the “sunny, cheerful, conservative” Reagan whom Matthew Continetti recalls in “The two faces of conservatism.”
Peter Robinson recently convened his friends Mark Steyn and Rob Long to reflect on “the Speech” in five segments of Peter’s Uncommon Knowledge series. The text of “the Speech” is here; the video is above. Part 1 of Robinson, Steyn and Long is here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, and part 5 here.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill