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Reagan's Campaign Speech Continues to Reverberate 50 Years Later


On Oct. 27, 1964, 50 years ago Monday, a movie actor and television host delivered a 30-minute speech on primetime national television in support of the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater.

There were no visual diversions, and the production values by today's standards were primitive. Few if any viewers realized it, but they were watching a future president of the United States.

But perhaps Ronald Reagan, the man on screen, had an inkling. Higher-ups in the Goldwater campaign didn't want him on the air, for fear he would distract attention from the current candidate. But Reagan, using the negotiating skills he developed as president of the Screen Actors Guild, promised not to go on if Barry Goldwater called him and asked.

Reagan knew Goldwater and presumably figured that he would be reluctant to make the call. Goldwater didn't, and he carried six states in the election the next week. In 1980 and 1984, 16 and 20 years later, Reagan carried 44 and 49.

Political reporters didn't take much notice of Reagan's speech. He was, as he noted, a former Democrat, one who opposed the expansion of government and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. But history seemed to be moving in the other direction.

The conventional wisdom was that, in a complex society, government must and should expand. Ordinary people could not cope in a complex industrial society. They needed — and would appreciate — the security and guidance provided by big government.

The Keynesian economists of the day were smug in their conviction that they had found the path to everlasting low-inflation economic growth. All that was needed was for the Federal Reserve to jiggle interest rates and the federal government to adjust budget deficits according to a few simple formulas.

Big corporations, tempered by the countervailing power of big labor unions and big government, could generate continuing productivity growth and comfortable livings for people who operated as very small cogs in very large machines.

Moreover, these truths were so self-evident that political oblivion loomed for any candidate or political party that denied them. After Goldwater's landslide loss, the press was full of predictions of the demise of the Republican Party.

Reagan disagreed.

And looking back on the history of the past half-century, he had a clearer view of the future than his condescending critics.

Violence by the intended beneficiaries of the Great Society — student rebellion at Berkeley, riots in Los Angeles' Watts and many other ghettos — helped Reagan win the governorship of the nation's largest state, and discredited liberal governance generally.

Republicans snapped back to an off-year victory in 1966 and won five of the next six presidential elections, by an average of 10 percent of the popular vote. The Keynesian economists produced the stagflation of the 1970s and argued that no alternative could do any better. But Reagan's tax cuts and his support of Paul Volcker's anti-inflation moves at the Fed did do better.

So did his policy of deregulation. In the private sector, big corporations floundered, paralyzed by union demands and by bureaucratic-minded management. But the deregulation of transportation and communication, begun by Jimmy Carter and continued by Reagan, made goods and services cheaper for ordinary people and opened the way for entrepreneurs to invent new products and create new firms.

Reagan in 1964 did not attack the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt against fascism or Harry Truman against communism. He supported those at the time and, on foreign if not on domestic policy, he was correct in saying that he did not leave the Democratic Party; it left him.

Reagan did criticize those 1960s Democrats who called for what he considered "appeasement" of communism and those who thought that the American and Soviet systems would somehow converge into something like democratic socialism. He admitted that there was risk in confronting the evil of communism, and he defended Goldwater against the charge that he was trigger-happy. But he argued that the risk of appeasement was greater.

"We're in a war," he said, "that must be won." And one that was. Just a few days short of 25 years after Reagan spoke, just 10 months after he left the White House, came the fall of the Berlin Wall. You can see chunks of it outside the Reagan Library in California.

Not many television viewers in 1964 envisioned all this. But the man speaking to the camera did.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst at the Washington Examiner, (, where this article first appeared, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... Convential wisdom aside, if we are not at war, we are certainly in a class struggle, and this may have conflicted with Mr. Reagans view of reality, but the more wealth is garnered on one side, and poverty is dispersed to the other, the larger the state must become to avert revolution. If you consider the largest cost of government, it has been in the last one hundred year for the war against communism which was really a proxy war against the rights of labor in America.
The constitution is certainly neutral about economies. There is no communist utopia that would promise what the Preamble of the Constitution promised to us, and did not deliver. The fifth Amendement does give specific protection to property, at least to the extent of due process, but this has been read as nearly limitless. Yet, again; the constitution as far as I can read does not prescribe any sort of economy, and if it did, people would consider its writers mad if they had prescribed communism. We know from the record that many of those who framed the constitution stood to benefit from it financially, and such self enrichment at the public expense has been the norm so long as it can be got past the government- as no great feat.
The wars we have made with the people of the world over their economy as opposed to our own has been a great waste of money. If you want people to believe in capitalism, only show them it works for them. Short of that, wars against communism fought by the people and paid for by the people with the least to gain from victory have increased national poverty, demanded the welfare state, an increase in police powers, and domestic surveilance. Look a J. Edgar Hoover and his personal war against liberal politicians, civil rights advocates, Communists, and labor organizations. That man had in his hands information concerning a Japanese interest in the navel base at Pearl Harbor, and he did nothing because his concerns were elsewhere. You would think, that if the Constitution is silent on economies, and that we are supposed to live in a democracy, that the people might freely choose what economy they would like. The facts are that we, under Mr. Reagan and others have made war on communism and communists, and with the excuse of that war, we have abridged the rights of communists and socialists in this country. Much as this has broke this people, we find the funny money economy that capitalism has come to depend upon cannot be justified without a state of declared and undeclared war. The Muslims are not communists in the least, and they would as one stand with us against communism. Does that mean they want to give away their oil for nothing? If they will not sell it cheap we buy it with lives, both theirs and ours.
World capitalism demands markets, and resources. and these demand war. To pay for war the people are broken, and they must then demand the support of their commonwealth. Without jobs, without education, and without opportunity people resort to crime, and that becomes an extreme cost to society. The general burden of people held unproductive in the name of profit becomes an extreme cost to society. Mr. Reagan did not have to twist a tit to get people to follow his ideas. Most people had already bought into them before he arrived on the scene. He believed in the boundless opportunity of America, and was living proof. But he was an exception in fact, and not an example. Under his leadership the condition of this people and of our infrastructure declined. The rich got richer because he manipulated taxes to remove every hint of fairness. Only with the real threat of communism was the condition of the working class ameliorated. When Communism was defeated the war was on against domestic labor organizations and the rights of the working class. And not one of the anti communist demogogues who are yet anti communist can say how Capitalism would last here without loans from Communist China.
Communism is terrible; worse than death or herpes, and yet we will see this people put into debt to Communists rather than free of free enterprise. The rich are not taxed. Those who benefit least are taxed the most in relation to their incomes. To support more war, services, and safety net that save more and more people from starvation and death; the middle class are taxed into poverty with the poor. Let me offer a simple opinion: The special privilages of property were given in the constitution because property once supported the government. Now that the burden of government has been loaded onto the backs of laborers, they have no special privilages, but property unburdened still has its protections. Humanity once strained against the burdens laid on them by Feudalism, but Feudal nobles held their wealth only by fufilling a social obligation as the wealthy of Rome did not, and no rich person since has.
Wealth without responsibility is a crime. What Reagan thought right about America is everything wrong with America. The American Commonwealth built on the model of the Roman Commonwealth did not exclude the rich from their social responsibilites as Rome did. The rich simply turned the income tax to the end of freeing property from its obligation to support society and the goverment. Mr. Reagan turned the frustration of the middle class being taxed into poverty into political support for the republicans, but that process continues, and the frustration is growing.
What you republicans need right now is a true believer like Mr. Reagan all full up with the Gospel of free enterprise to blow his brand of sand up every ass in America, and then victory will be yours. It will be hard to argue that free enterprise works to all those not working- because of free enterprise; but it is worth a shot. Reagan was pretty stupid, but he was correct to count on the stupidity of humanity. We have not improved, and the struggle for life makes improvement unlikely.
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Oct 28, 2014 12:05 AM
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