Ronald Reagan was an actor with a side gig as a political activist when he was launched into national prominence via a televised speech he gave for GOP presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964, an address titled “A Time for Choosing.”
“This is the issue of this election: 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,” Reagan said in the speech.
Reagan never used the title of the speech in the speech itself. Fifty-six years later, Vice President Mike Pence did, telling a crowd Friday in Ripon, Wisconsin — the birthplace of the Republican Party — that it was “a time for choosing” between two different visions of America.
It was a speech that conservative pundit, author and former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino says he “couldn’t stop watching.”
“Joe Biden would be nothing more than an autopen president, a Trojan horse for a radical agenda — so radical, so all-encompassing that it would transform this country into something utterly unrecognizable,” Pence said in the remarks at Ripon College.
“The Biden-Sanders agenda would set America on the path of socialism and decline. And as our nation endures this time of testing, we’d do well to tell our neighbors and friends that it’s also the time for choosing.
“We need to tell our fellow Americans that we can choose to stay on a path that starts from the belief in the goodness of the American people, that starts from the premise that America is exceptional, is founded on freedom, and always striving for a more perfect union,” he continued.
Or, Pence warned, we could go down the primrose path of socialism — the same way, Pence said, one of our closest geopolitical neighbors did.
“Just last week, President Trump spoke at a roundtable with a Cuban immigrant by the name of Maximo Alvarez. Maximo escaped communist Cuba when he was 13. He was one of the last kids to flee with a group of nuns whose convent had been taken over by the communist dictator that Bernie Sanders praised in the past,” Pence said.
“Maximo had a stark warning for our country at that forum. He said, and I quote, ‘What’s happening in our backyard today, I experienced as an 11-year-old.’ Maximo went on to say, ‘I remember vividly all the promises that Castro gave. I remember the promises that we hear today about free education, free health care, free land.’
“And then he recalled what his father told him about the glory of being an American. Maximo said that his father told him, ‘Don’t lose that place, because if you lose that place, you’ll have no place to go.’ America is a beacon of hope and freedom for all the world.”
Pence went on to quote Reagan, who said, “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”
Maintaining freedom requires constant struggle, Reagan said, because otherwise, “one day, we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like to live in the United States when men were free.”
“We have to fight for our freedom again,” Pence said. “President Ronald Reagan was right in his time. And I promise you: That fighter in the White House will never stop fighting for freedom. President Donald Trump will continue to fight for the freedom of every American, and so we must fight with him.
“We have two paths before us: One of freedom and opportunity, the other of socialism and decline. We can either be true to ourselves and what’s made this nation a beacon of hope for all the world, or we can become like the very places that many of our ancestors fled and that many still flee to come here.”
Pence went on to quote Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
“The truth is, through the long and storied history of this country, Americans have always chosen the road less traveled by: The road of freedom, individual responsibility. And I know we will do so again.
“I know this because, like our president, and those who founded the Republican Party so many years ago here in Ripon, I believe in freedom, and I know this is a freedom-loving nation,” he continued, to applause.
“I know the love of freedom beats in the heart of every American. And I know we will choose well, again, in this November, because I have faith — faith that every time the American people have [been] given the choice between more freedom and less freedom, they stand for freedom, they fight for freedom, and they choose freedom every single time.”
The full speech is here:
There was a further echo of Reagan’s rhetoric in Pence’s speech: “You know, it’s not so much whether America will be more conservative or more liberal, more Republican or Democrat, more red or blue,” the vice president said.
“It’s whether America remains America. It’s whether we will leave to our children and our grandchildren a country grounded in our highest ideals of freedom, free markets, and the unalienable right to life and liberty — or whether we will leave to our children and grandchildren a country that is fundamentally transformed into something else.”
That’s not hyperbole. Joe Biden may count as a centrist in today’s Democratic Party, but that’s only because of the party’s leftward lurch. What’s more, the party’s activists are demanding Biden come with them — and he’s acquiescing readily, having put out a 110-page statement in coordination with Bernie Sanders’ people in advance of the Democratic National Convention, a move Politico notes was made to mollify supporters of Sanders and to avoid the kind of internecine struggles that plagued Hillary Clinton four years ago.
While not exactly a capitulation to the Sanders agenda, it would have seemed nigh unthinkable four years ago that the Democratic nominee would be setting up a task force with an admitted socialist for reasons of “unity.”
If you don’t think Biden’s going to be pushed further left than that, you haven’t been paying attention. One assumes the reason Bongino says he couldn’t stop watching the speech wasn’t just the quality of the rhetoric. It’s that the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been.
This isn’t just about conservatism versus liberalism anymore. It’s about a Democratic Party that increasingly believes “liberalism” is far too conservative.
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