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Today marks 50 years to the day that, to paraphrase the late great Libertarian Murray Rothbard, Ronald Reagan made ‘The Speech’ entitled ‘A Time For Choosing’, “delivered over nationwide TV during the 1964 Goldwater campaign” and thus “established him as the ‘Great Communicator’ of the right wing” … of the GOP and most Conservatives and many Libertarians throughout the USA and beyond. As recently reported in Breitbart: “This oration on behalf of conservative Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964, put Reagan on the political map and eventually launched him to the presidency.” Interestingly, the LA Times reminded in 2011 that, “if the address has become one [of] the landmarks of Reagan’s political career” since then, “it certainly didn’t start out that way” back-in-the-day.
Regarding ‘The Speech’ itself, Breitbart gives a good overview of the way many, if not most, on the modern American Right would characterize, not only the flavor of this particular 1964 dissertation, but also, Reagan as President and man and in both word and deed. “Reagan’s half-hour performance in front of a live audience drew from American history … and laid out the deep principles that would become the cornerstone of the conservative movement for the next half century. Channeling the American tradition and ideas stemming from the founding, Reagan proposed to set out a bold, new course for American governance that departed from the mantras of a calcified twentieth century progressivism. By appealing to patriotism, the American dream, and simple, common-sense ideas Reagan helped lay the groundwork for a resurgent conservative movement. Reagan energized young people, many of whom would help put him in the White House [for most of the 1980s].”
Regarding ‘Reagan the man’, his former budget director David Stockman recently stated: “I would say he was quite well informed, but his education, particularly on economic matters, was pre-1930. … So a lot of people misunderstood his … old [classical] liberal worldview of economics, for lack of information, or lack of knowledge, or lack of intelligence. I think that was wrong. … [H]e had a tremendous temperament. He had a willingness to listen to people. He gave people an opportunity to do their job. So there are pluses and minuses, but I think a lot of the conventional stereotypes, negative or positive, really don’t capture the more complex reality that existed.”
I am nowadays a self-described Libertarian of the Austrian School rather than of the Chicago School (and more so Rothbardian Austrian than Hayekian Austrian). Fellow Austro-Libertarians have largely taken a dim view of ‘Reagan the President’, particularly given the sorts of pro-liberty things he said over many years during and prior to his Presidency, including of course in ‘The Speech’. (Austro-Libertarians usually provide a small caveat in favour of the Jimmy Carter appointed Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who stopped printing money like a drunken counterfeiter … which has rarely been the case in the past 100 years of US central banking.) Sheldon Richman in 1988 summed up the Austro-Libertarian view as follows: “Ronald Reagan’s faithful followers claim he has used his skills as the ‘Great Communicator’ to reverse the growth of ‘Leviathan’ and inaugurate a new era of liberty and free markets. … Yet after nearly eight years of Reaganism, the clamor for more government intervention in the economy was so formidable that Reagan abandoned the free-market position and acquiesced in further crippling of the economy and our liberties. In fact, the number of free-market achievements by the administration are so few that they can be counted on one hand—with fingers left over.” Paraphrasing Austro-Libertarian historian John Denson who was more charitable a dozen years later: “His often expressed campaign slogan was ‘Government is not the answer, it is the problem’, but, unfortunately, he did not—or was not allowed to—put the idea into practice during either of his two administrations.”
Another Austro-Libertarian historian, Thomas Woods, not too long ago said: “[T]he Thatcher record, like the Reagan record, is less impressive than the legends of Right and Left would have it … [but] even though, with both Reagan and Thatcher, the free-market program was sometimes more rhetorical than real, pro-market rhetoric was better than nothing, especially in the late 1970s [or mid 1960s … or even, regrettably, in 2014].” It is in this spirit that I choose to look at ‘The Speech’, particularly as the words of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (along with the ideas of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman) helped to start me on a positive life’s journey to eventually reach the ideas of Ludwig von Mises and words of Ron Paul, as well as many others.
The whole of ‘The Speech’ can be viewed here (or in the embedded video above) and read here. What also follows below (in order of their appearance within) is a sample of just some of the many quotes that, are not only still inspiring for tomorrow, but are sadly still pertinent for today. Enjoy:
Today, 37 cents out of every dollar earned in this country is the tax collector’s share, and yet our government continues to spend 17 million dollars a day more than the government takes in. We haven’t balanced our budget 28 out of the last 34 years. We’ve raised our debt limit three times in the last twelve months, and now our national debt is one and a half times bigger than all the combined debts of all the nations of the world. … And we’ve just had announced that the dollar of 1939 will now purchase 45 cents in its total value.
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.
If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.
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 — old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.
‘[T]he full power of centralized government — this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don’t control things. 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. They also knew, those Founding Fathers, that outside of its legitimate functions, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.
Private property rights [are] so diluted that public interest is almost anything a few government planners decide it should be.
For … decades, we’ve sought to solve the problems of unemployment through government planning, and the more the plans fail, the more the planners plan.
And when the government tells you you’re depressed, lie down and be depressed. [tongue-in-cheek]
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 [the Democrats are] going to solve all the problems of human misery through government and government planning. Well, now, if government planning and welfare had the answer — and they’ve had almost 30 years of it [more like 100+ years] — shouldn’t we expect government to read the score to us once in a while? Shouldn’t they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? … But the reverse is true.
Course, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting Harvard is the answer to juvenile delinquency. [tongue-in-cheek
Yet 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.
[The Democrats] called [Social Security] “insurance” to us in a hundred million pieces of literature. But then they appeared before the Supreme Court and they testified it was a welfare program. They only use the term “insurance” to sell it to the people. And they said Social Security dues are a tax for the general use of the government, and the government has used that tax.
[W]as Barry Goldwater so irresponsible when he suggested that our government give up its program of deliberate, planned inflation, so that when you do get your Social Security pension, a dollar will buy a dollar’s worth … ?
I think we’re against the hypocrisy of assailing our allies because here and there they cling to a colony, while we engage in a conspiracy of silence and never open our mouths about the millions of people enslaved in the Soviet colonies in the satellite nations.
I think we’re for aiding our allies by sharing of our material blessings with those nations which share in our fundamental beliefs, but we’re against doling out money government to government, creating bureaucracy, if not socialism, all over the world.
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.
These proliferating [federal, state, and local] bureaus with their thousands of regulations have cost us many of our constitutional safeguards.
But as a former Democrat, I can tell you … back in 1936, Mr. Democrat himself, Al Smith, the great American, came before the American people and charged that the leadership of his Party was taking the Party of Jefferson, Jackson, and Cleveland down the road under the banners of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. And … to this day, the leadership of that Party has been taking that Party, that honorable Party, down the road in the image of the labor Socialist Party of England.
Now it doesn’t require expropriation or confiscation of private property or business to impose socialism on a people. What does it mean whether you hold the deed to the — or the title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property? And such machinery already exists.
Somewhere a perversion has taken place. Our natural, unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment.
Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state …
They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer — not an easy answer — but simple: If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our hearts is morally right.
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.
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.