In 1964, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona was the Republican nominee against President Lyndon B. Johnson.
An actor/businessman named Ronald Reagan had videotaped a speech he made before an audience at a Los Angeles hotel. The ideas he presented in this speech were ones he had perfected on the "rubber chicken" circuit and as a national spokesman for General Electric. (On at least one occasion, he visited the employees at the GE plant on Highway 80 in south Jackson, Mississippi.)
Reagan was formerly president of the Screen Actors Guild and a New Deal Democrat. Despite having backed the presidential candidacies of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956 and Richard Nixon in 1960, he had not registered as a Republican until 1962.
Reagan wanted to air his videotaped speech in behalf of Goldwater's 1964 campaign. The senator's staff opposed this, so Reagan paid for the broadcast himself. The response was tremendous as the telecast generated an avalanche of campaign donations. The Goldwater staff were now believers, and The Speech was aired again shortly before the election, garnering a reaction similar to the first showing.
Human Events, the national conservative weekly, printed the full text of The Speech, which was titled "A Time For Choosing."
This was considered the best speech of the 1964 campaign, and many Republicans found themselves wishing they had nominated Reagan for president.
Pat the Giant-Killer
In 1966, California Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, a Democrat, was seeking a third term. He had a well-deserved reputation as a political giant-killer.
Brown had won his first term as governor in 1958 by defeating William F. Knowland, the Republican leader of the U. S. Senate. It was widely believed that Knowland wanted to use the governorship as a springboard to run for president in 1960, and this was a major factor in his loss.
Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft narrowly lost the GOP presidential nomination to Gen. Eisenhower in 1952. The word was that, had Taft been nominated, he would have picked Sen. Knowland as his running mate. If a Taft-Knowland ticket had been elected, Knowland would have become president, since Taft died in 1953. (Knowland, incidentally, made a speech for "Goldwater for President" on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1964.) Tragically, he took his own life in 1974.
In 1962, former Vice President Nixon ran against Gov. Brown. Despite Nixon's denials, many people thought he planned to run again for president in 1964.
Tired and dejected, Nixon held a bitter press conference on the day following his loss to Brown. Blaming the reporters for his defeat, he told them, "This is my last press conference. ... You won't have Nixon to kick around any more!" Almost everyone figured he was politically dead.
Enter the "Citizen Politician"
Impressed by Reagan's speech for Goldwater in 1964, a group of California businessmen convinced him to run against Gov. Brown in 1966. Brown and his backers fervently hoped "that actor" Reagan would defeat George Christopher, the former San Francisco mayor and the heavy favorite for the Republican nomination. Brown got his wish, as Reagan won the primary decisively.
On Brown's campaign plane, he gleefully showed the movie Bedtime for Bonzo, in which Reagan had co-starred with a chimpanzee. (Years later, when Reagan ran in the New Hampshire presidential primary, someone had a sign which read, "Bedtime for Reagan: Bonzo for President!")
Stumping as a "citizen politician," Reagan whipped Brown by just under a million votes. At age 55, he had taken his first step toward the White House.
A condensed version of The Speech, "A Time For Choosing," is available at Free Citizen.
Joseph Sobran wrote '"My Enemies Will Stop at Nothing!"' shortly after Reagan's death. See The Wanderer.
For a more critical look at Reagan, go to "The Quintessential Politician" (article of June 22, 2004), at Harry Browne's Web site.