by Ron Robinson, President, Young America's Foundation
June 5, 2014
originally published on Breitbart.com
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of President
Ronald Reagan. As significant as this anniversary is to America and
the world, there is a more important Reagan anniversary this
I am referring
to the 50th anniversary of actor Ronald Reagan's
speech, televised nationwide, on October 27, 1964, on behalf of
Barry Goldwater for President. The speech eventually became known
as, "A Time for Choosing." Years later, President Reagan wrote of
it, "Of course, I didn't know it then, but that speech was one of
the most important milestones in my life-another one of those
unexpected turns in the road that led me onto a path I never
expected to take."
remarkable about that speech, yet seldom noted, is there was no
chance of Goldwater winning by the time Reagan delivered
it. Barry Goldwater would lose the election one week
later carrying only six states and gathering only 38.5% of the
vote. Reagan used valuable national airtime to articulate
conservative principles rather than salvage the races of some
Senate or House candidates who might have benefited from blurring
the differences between Goldwater and Johnson.
loss was looming in late October 1964. One of his earliest and most
prominent backers, William F. Buckley, Jr., had already warned
Goldwater's most enthusiastic supporters in Young Americans for
Freedom (YAF) that the Senator would lose. Buckley noted in his YAF
speech, "I speak of course of the impending defeat of Barry
Goldwater!" Later Buckley suggested, "This is probably Lyndon
Johnson's year, and the Archangel Gabriel running on the Republican
ticket probably couldn't win."
White, another close Goldwater associate and the
Conservative Movement's political guru of the 1960s, wrote, "Barry
Goldwater's defeat was the most thorough-going rout ever suffered
by any candidate of a major political party…the awesome magnitude
of the Goldwater defeat affected Republican candidates at all
the Establishment's scribe of the time, noted of Goldwater, "Never
in any campaign had I seen a candidate so heckled, so provoked by
the opposition…so cruelly bill-boarded and tagged."
knew it was not the Johnson forces alone who were vehemently
anti-Goldwater. Moderate Republican leaders including New York
Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Governor William
Scranton, "had drawn up the indictment. Lyndon Johnson was the
prosecutor. Goldwater was cast as defendant. He was like a dog with
a can tied to his tail-the faster he ran, the more the can
It was in this rigged courtroom of public opinion that Ronald
Reagan offered himself up to serve as the defense attorney for
Goldwater and Goldwater's principles.
Reagan surely knew Goldwater was heading for a bruising defeat.
How many of today's political "leaders" would be willing to risk
their future to speak out on behalf of a candidate who could not
muster 40% of the vote and whose closest allies had already
conceded his defeat just because the candidate had the right
principles? Such a speaker would be trashed as
"hopelessly, politically naïve," even dangerous, and accused of
ignoring "reality" to tilt at windmills.
In fact, there is no modern equivalent of an emerging or
promising personality who has proven willing to champion a losing
candidate, one who made fatal mistakes or "blunders" in his
campaign, solely to make the case for limited government,
individual freedom, and a strong foreign policy.
What Reagan demonstrated in the "A Time for Choosing" speech,
and he would later repeat in similar speeches as a recently
inaugurated President at CPAC in March 1981 and at the Brandenburg
Gate in June 1987, is unusual political courage. Repeatedly, he was
willing to ignore conventional political pundits, and staid White
House and State Department advisors, to boldly raise a banner for
the cause of freedom.
As actor Reagan jokingly made clear in 1964, "[T]he performer
hasn't been provided with a script…I have been permitted to use my
own words and discuss my own ideas."
Reagan's own ideas were clear: "I think it's time we ask
ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us
by the Founding Fathers…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
What were the consequences of delivering such a courageous
The Washington Post's David Broder and Stephen Hess
referred to it as "the most successful national political
debut" in 70 years. The Washington Post decades later
admitted, "Reagan launched his political career…with a nationally
televised speech that immediately made him a top prospect for
governor of California."
Reagan biographer, Lou Cannon also caught its implications.
"Believers who heard Reagan felt they were being summoned to a
vital battle that would surely end in victory…" Cannon ultimately
concluded, "It was indeed the right message at the right
A half century later, we can see through his timeless
speech how Reagan became a leader the whole country would honor
when he died.
Reagan articulated freedom's principles even in the face of
certain near-term defeat for his cause. Unlike many current public
figures, he did not worry whether championing an unpopular position
would hurt his personal fortunes. In fact, Reagan continued to
speak his mind despite previous threats of losing his television
show, General Electric Theater. That is because, for
Reagan, principles came first. It was to advance those principles
that he would even consider a political career.
President Reagan concluded, "[T]he speech changed my entire
life." Indeed, Reagan went on to restore our prosperity from the
debilitating Carter economy, and win the Cold War. We now know that
speech changed our nation and the world.
Perhaps it is time once again to look closely for leaders who
willingly advance "their own ideas" without worrying about the
reaction of professional political pundits.
Ronald Reagan gave us an example of principled leadership,
and that is why we honor the anniversary of his passing.