In order to win next month, Republican nominee Mitt Romney will have to articulate the reason why the choice for him is right. The choice has to be about more than Mitt Romney, and really about more than President Barack Obama. The compelling choice should contrast the very different futures each man would seek to create. The ability to describe and contrast two potential visions of the future — one under Obama and the other under Romney — will likely prove key to who wins.
Ronald Reagan had this linguistic ability, which he honed over decades of work.
In October 1964, Reagan, in his first national appearance, delivered a 30-minute, nationally televised speech in support of then-Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. This presentation, which later became known as “The Speech,” focused on the choice between a government that was intrusive and controlling and one that valued personal freedom and responsibility.
The program was paid for by Goldwater and the Brothers for Goldwater, chaired by John Wayne. It was delivered in front of a studio audience and can be seen today on YouTube.
The foundation for this speech had been laid over the previous decade. From 1954 to 1962, Reagan worked for General Electric as a spokesman for its initiative to promote citizenship. GE Vice President Lemuel Boulware believed that “the average citizen cannot afford to leave politics to the politicians.” Reagan crisscrossed the country giving speeches in order to encourage an active citizenry.
The actor promoted conservatism, but also talked about the resilience of the American people and the problems that all Americans faced. During his travels, he met thousands of people from across the country and learned that, in the end, Americans shared core problems, values and ideals.
Reagan was a uniter. “I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines,” he noted in his October speech.
Instead of separating people into disparate groups, Reagan sought to unite them. He made a compelling case for why we had to work together: “You can’t control the economy without controlling the people. We either take responsibility for our own destiny, or we abandon the American revolution and confess that an intellectual belief in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
He went on to crush the idea of a boundary between the parties. “You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left and a right,” he said. “Well, I’d like to suggest that there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up and down — (up) man’s (age-old) dream, the ultimate in individual consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”
While clearly outlining a choice, Reagan differentiated between good motives and bad outcomes. “Regardless of their sincerity, of their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course,” he said.
When talking about a government that could solve problems through centralization, Reagan noted, “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.”
In a line that could be used in today’s economy, Reagan stated that “we’ve sought to solve the problem of unemployment through government planning, and the more the plans fail, the more the planners plan.”
Every generation has a rendezvous with destiny, where we can “preserve for our children this last, best hope for man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.” We will have to see if we have a candidate who can, as Margaret Thatcher said, first win the argument and then win the vote.