Forty-two years ago, President Lyndon Johnson, the vulgar and miserable Democrat who ballooned the welfare state, faced challenger Senator Barry Goldwater, the candid conservative Republican who famously extolled the virtue of “extremism in the defense of liberty”.
A couple of weeks before the election, Ronald Reagan delivered what would become one of the defining speeches of his life: A Time for Choosing. In it, the future President suggested, “[T]here is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down–up to a man’s age-old dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order–or down to the ant heap totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”
Sen. Goldwater lost that election. But the ideas captured by his campaign and articulated in Mr. Reagan’s speech defined conservatism for the second half of the 20th century.
A short 16 years later, Gov. Reagan was elected President in a landslide victory and became the greatest President of the 20th century.
By articulating and sticking to clear, correct, compelling principles, Ronald Reagan and his conservative brothers and sisters ultimately won a great electoral victory and a victory of ideas.
How sadly different things are today, a mere 17 years after President Reagan left office. So many–though not all–Republicans have offered nothing more than modified Democrat policy prescriptions. “We’ll expand government intervention in citizens’ lives, but not as quickly as they will; we’ll increase spending, but not by as much as they do,” is the real message of too many campaigns. Having severed the anchor of principle, some Republicans have even drifted into Democrats’ financial corruption and sexual misconduct.
And so, today, we arrive at a time for settling, rather than a time for choosing. Choosing requires a real choice.
Or is it a time to reclaim lost principles? Conservative anger at Republican betrayal may cost the GOP several seats by the end of today. And that just might be what we need to begin the hard work of restoring the principles that formed the foundation of the Reagan Revolution.