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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: 'Rendezvous with destiny'

by Mike Masterson | June 19, 2021 at 8:40 a.m.

Here's an abridged version of President Ronald Reagan's 1964 televised speech, "A Time for Choosing." I felt today's readers and their offspring might find relevance in what our yet-to-be president said to the nation during the unsuccessful presidential campaign of GOP Sen. Barry Goldwater. (Google the full 4,509-word version).

"I have spent most of my life as a Democrat. I recently have seen fit to follow another course. I believe the issues confronting us cross party lines. Now, one side in this campaign has been telling us the issues of this election are the maintenance of peace and prosperity. ...

"But 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. 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 have $15 billion in gold in our treasury; we don't own an ounce. Foreign dollar claims are $27.3 billion. ...

"[I]t's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers. ...

"[T]his idea that government is beholden to the people ... is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. .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. ... [T]here is no such thing as a left or right. There's only 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. ...

"[A]s we were told a few days ago by the president, we must accept a greater government activity in the affairs of the people. But they've been a little more explicit in the past and among themselves; and all of the things I now will quote have appeared in print. These are not Republican accusations. For example, they have voices that say, 'The cold war will end through our acceptance of a not undemocratic socialism.' Another says, 'The profit motive has become outmoded. It must be replaced by the incentives of the welfare state.' Or, 'Our traditional system of individual freedom is incapable of solving the complex problems of the 20th century.'

"[Arkansas Democrat] Senator [J. William] Fulbright has said ... the Constitution is outmoded. [He referred to the president, saying] he is 'hobbled in his task by the restrictions of power imposed on him by this antiquated document.' He must 'be freed,' so that he 'can do for us' what he knows 'is best.' Senator [Joseph] Clark of Pennsylvania ... defines liberalism as 'meeting the material needs of the masses through the full power of centralized government.'

"Well, I, for one, resent it when a representative of the people refers to you and me, the free men and women of this country, as 'the masses.' ... But beyond that, ' the full power of centralized government,' this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. ... 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 ... . They also knew ... 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. ...

"We have so many 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. ...

"But the reverse is true. Each year the need grows greater; the program grows greater. ... We're spending $45 billion on welfare. ... [I]f we divided $45 billion up equally among those 9 million poor families, we'd be able to give each family $4,600 a year. And this added to their present income should eliminate poverty. ...

"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. ...

"[W]e're for an international organization, where the nations of the world can seek peace. But I think we're against subordinating American interests to an organization that has become so structurally unsound that today you can muster a two-thirds vote on the floor of the General Assembly among nations that represent less than 10 percent of the world's population. ...

"No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So governments' programs, once launched, never disappear. ...

"[F]ederal, state and local, one out of six of the nation's work force employed by government. These proliferating bureaus with their thousands of regulations have cost us many of our constitutional safeguards. ... In Chicot County, Arkansas, James Wier over-planted his rice allotment. The government obtained a $17,000 judgment. And a U.S. marshal sold his 960-acre farm at auction ... as a warning to others to make the system work. ...

"[B]ack in 1936, Mr. Democrat himself, Al Smith ... 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 he walked away from his party ... 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 [or] title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property? ... The government can find some charge to bring against any concern it chooses to prosecute. ... [F]reedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp ... .

"Our Democratic opponents seem unwilling to debate these issues. They want to make you and I believe that this is a contest [where] we're to choose just between two personalities. ...

"Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy 'accommodation.' And they say if we'll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he'll forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. ... 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. ...

"Alexander Hamilton said, 'A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.' ... There's no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there's only one guaranteed way you can have peace--and you can have it in the next second--surrender.

"Admittedly, there's a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face, that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. ... Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be. ... [S]omeday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. ...

"[F]rom our side he's heard voices pleading for 'peace at any price' or 'better Red than dead,' or as one commentator put it, he'd rather 'live on his knees than die on his feet.' And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don't speak for the rest of us.

"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 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. Where, then, is the road to peace? ... Winston Churchill said, '... When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we're spirits--not animals.' And he said, 'There's something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which ... spells duty."

"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."

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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