Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Time For Choosing

It was the fall of 1964 and I'd ridden my bike the mile from home to the hamburger stand in Broad River.  I remember it one of those beautiful late fall afternoons, when the low humidity and absence of wind makes everything look startling clear, but it's not yet stinging cold.  The burger stand was in a small wooden building.  There was a counter with a grill behind it.  You stood at the counter to order.  There was also a counter opposite where you could sit and eat.  No tables.  The entire open area couldn't have been bigger than 80 square feet, and might have been quite a bit smaller.  I think they served burgers, dogs, fries, soda and yoo-hoo and that was it.   The owner's first name was Hy.  My parents were friendly with him and we were frequent customers.  He was also the only non-Democrat adult I remember knowing at that time.  I think I knew he was one of those strange "conservative" creatures.

We were in the midst of the LBJ - Goldwater presidential campaign.  Like my parents, I was all in for LBJ - not that I could vote - I was only 13.  When I walked in to order, there were no other customers in the place, but someone was talking on the radio that Hy usually had playing.  Hy said to me, "you need to listen to this".  So I did.  The speaker was compelling.  It was something about his voice and cadence.  The words and images were vivid and strong.  It was all very different from what I was used to hearing.  At times the speaker sounded almost biblical, at other moments strident and a bit scary.  I didn't know quite what to make of it, though I knew enough to know I shouldn't approve of it.  I didn't, but it made a lasting impression on me.  I couldn't stop listening and remained until the end. Hy told me the speaker was Ronald Reagan. Years later, I realized it was the Time For Choosing speech that he gave on October 27, 1964 which launched his political career, leading to his election as governor of California in 1966.

This 2014 article from the Washington Post by Steven Hayward explains the significance of the speech.  Here's Hayward's opening:
There are perhaps four speeches in American history that so electrified the public that they propelled their orators to the front rank of presidential politics overnight: Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address of 1860, William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech at the 1896 Democratic convention, Barack Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic convention and Ronald Reagan’s "A Time For Choosing“ speech 50 years ago.
I don't remember hearing Ronald Reagan speak again until the mid-1970s when I was commuting back and forth from a house in Maynard, Massachusetts to job in Worcester.  It was about a 45 minute drive so had plenty of time to listen to the radio.  Reagan had completed his second term as governor and had a 5-minute radio spot in the late afternoon or early evening in which he gave his views on issues of the day.  I was still a committed Democrat, voting for McGovern in '72 and Carter in '76, but I liked listening to Reagan.  His style was more avuncular than in A Time For Choosing, and his voice was so relaxing and pleasant.  I often found myself nodding in at least partial agreement with his points (I later discovered he wrote every one of those pieces).  He remains my favorite President during my lifetime.

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