When The Right Fell For Ronnie

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing” speech, which he gave on prime-time television in late October 1964 in support of Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Jeff Shesol takes us back to that pivotal speech, which made Reagan a darling of the conservative movement:

“I don’t have but one speech,” Martin Luther King, Jr., once said. “I don’t have but one message as I journey around this country.” Few of King’s contemporaries took this notion to heart more fully than Ronald Reagan.

Beginning in 1954, when Reagan became, in effect, the in-house motivational speaker for General Electric, he delivered, many hundreds of times, what was known as “The Speech.” From plant to plant, from one year to the next, Reagan honed his script, reshuffled his note cards, and updated his anecdotes, but his theme—the threat of an encroaching, expanding government—did not vary. It was less a speech than a sermon, as Reagan himself understood—a malediction against the evils of income taxes, federal spending, central planning, godless Communism, and government controls on commerce and freedom. “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,” Reagan said. If there is such a thing as a feel-good jeremiad, Reagan invented it. … The Speech—rechristened, for that occasion, as “A Time for Choosing”—helped to define the G.O.P. and conservative politics for more than a generation.

Watch the whole speech here.