When Americans awoke on the morning of October 27, 1964 – 59 years ago today – they found themselves just one week from an historic presidential election that would see Democrat Lyndon Johnson trounce his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater.
Before a capacity of crowd at New York City’s Madison Garden the night before, Goldwater accused the president of “Daddyism” – the idea that the federal government could, should and would take care of everything on the taxpayer’s dime. The morning’s New York Times described the speech as “ripping, lashing, slugging.”
That same day, President Johnson accused Senator Goldwater of “radicalism.” Speaking from the steps of the state capitol in Columbia, South Carolina, the president suggested that behind his opponent’s governing style was “a deadly intention that would initiate policies which, I think, would radically change the American way of life.”
At the time, Johnson held a sizable lead over Goldwater in the polls, 64-36. The Republican bravado notwithstanding, most people assumed the president would be reelected, but not everyone was willing to give up.
Later that night, a special program would air on nationwide television. It was called, “Rendezvous with Destiny,” and it featured a half-hour speech from the former actor Ronald Reagan. It was a campaign ad, paid for by oil executive Henry Salvatori and other friends of the future president.
Only Goldwater’s campaign manager and policy director hadn’t approved the prerecorded message – because that hadn’t even seen it. On the morning of the 27th, Goldwater’s people were trying to get the show replaced with a message from the candidate himself, but it was too late.
Ronald Reagan’s speech that night was titled, “A Time for Choosing.” It would later become simply known as “The Speech,” and has been credited with launching Reagan’s political career and eventually electing him president 16 years later.
The brilliance of the message was that it was principle-based and thus, timeless in its themes. Students of Reagan will see these same subjects in so much of what he would advocate for as governor of California and then president.
Just consider some of these gems excerpted from his speech which aired 59 years ago tonight:
I have an uncomfortable feeling that this prosperity isn’t something on which we can base our hopes for the future. No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of its national income.
There can be no real peace while one American is dying some place in the world for the rest of us. We’re at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it’s been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.
I think it’s time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers.
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 capitol 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. Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater.
Anytime you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we’re denounced as being against their humanitarian goals. They say we’re always “against” things – we’re never “for” anything.
Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.
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.
You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin – just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ’round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.”
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.
Reading that so many years later, it’s difficult to believe it took Ronald Reagan 16 years to win the presidency. But God doesn’t operate on our timeline. In His sovereign perfection, those years between were necessary. He is always at work, even when it appears He is silent or absent.
Yet nearly six decades later, these same issues monopolize the national dialogue and remain a constant point of prayer for Christians. The names have changed – but due to sin and human nature, the challenges are ever present. Public policy and elections are important. But as believers, our ultimate “rendezvous with destiny” isn’t elections or legislation – but a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Photo Credit: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library