Ronald Reagan’s nationally televised address, “A Time for Choosing,” was the manifesto of the modern conservative movement. While he delivered his comments on October 27, 1964, they could have easily been given today. He laid out the choice between oppressive taxation and excessive government versus lower taxes, limited government, and prosperity.
Long before he was President or even Governor, Mr. Reagan warned of the government taking too much of our hard-earned money: “No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of its national income.” He understood the negative impact that could have on economic growth and opportunity for America.
He went on to warn about the size and scope of the federal government: “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.” It is why radicals are pushing so hard to enact massive new spending programs today at the federal level—regardless of the process used or precedent set. They know it will be nearly impossible to repeal them in the future.
Mr. Reagan spelled out the problems with socialism and Communism.
He told a story that, sadly, could still be told today: “Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee, a businessman who had escaped from Castro, and in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said, `We don’t know how lucky we are.’ And the Cuban stopped and said, `How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.’ And in that sentence, he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”
During his address, Mr. Reagan clearly stated, “And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.” He went on to spell out the critical issue: “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.”
In a preview of the debate we are having today, Mr. Reagan laid out the battle not as left versus right but up or down. He viewed the choice of up being “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.” How prolific for the world we live in today as so many are willing to sacrifice our individual liberties for an (often false) sense of safety and security.
The founders of our country were clear, according to Mr. Reagan: “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, the government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.”
The view of many on the left and many others in the media these days may be summed up in Mr. Reagan’s comments from 1964: “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.” Isn’t this the essence of cancel culture?
Mr. Reagan warned of the growing size of the federal bureaucracy: “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.”
In 1964, Mr. Reagan warned of socialism and declared (as many do today) that Democrats were taking the party “of Jefferson, Jackson, and Cleveland down the road under the banners of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin.” He went on to say that 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.”
Then, as Mr. Reagan often did, he gave us an optimistic charge when he said: “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.” With that in mind, it is time for us to stand up to defend freedom and pass it on for the next generation to do the same.
• Scott Walker is the president of Young America’s Foundation and served as the 45th Governor of Wisconsin from 2011 to 2019.