21 August 2006

A Time for Choosing

I found a cool website last night called American Rhetoric. The site contains the text, audio (MP3) and video of some of the most historic speeches in the history of our country. I browsed the list of the "Top 100 Speeches" (the 100 most significant American political speeches of the 20th century, according to a list compiled by Professors Stephen E. Lucas and Martin J. Medhurst) and downloaded a handful:
President Reagan's Challenger Address (#8)
President Eisenhower's Farewell Address (#18)
President Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" (#22)
Reagan's "A Time for Choosing" (#25)
Reagans "Evil Empire" Speech (#29)
Reagan's First Inaugural Address (#30)
Kennedy's American University Commencement Address (#37)
Reagan's 40th Anniversary of D-Day (#60)
Reagan's Brandenburg Gate Address (#94)
I listened to most of these speeches and was reminded of two things: first, how fighting Communism absolutely dominated the thinking of the time. Whether it was JFK in Berlin in 1963 declaring "Ich bin ein Berliner", or Reagan in 1987 telling Gorbachev to "tear down this wall!", the rhetoric was clear and sent a message. The "War on Terror" is perhaps today's closest equivalent, but it seems to me that this is not nearly on the same scale.

The second thing that I noticed, especially in Reagan's "A Time for Choosing" speech, is how so many things are the same. Consider the following: Reagan realized Social Security was broken, and propsed a massive overhaul. We're still fighting that battle today.

Reagan realized the burgeoning welfare state was a trap instead of a helping hand, and offered this example:
Not too long ago, a judge called me here in Los Angeles. He told me of a young woman who'd come before him for a divorce. She had six children, was pregnant with her seventh. Under his questioning, she revealed her husband was a laborer earning 250 dollars a month. She wanted a divorce to get an 80 dollar raise. She's eligible for 330 dollars a month in the Aid to Dependent Children Program. She got the idea from two women in her neighborhood who'd already done that very thing.
Reagan realized the limitations of the United Nations, something some people still have yet to grasp today:
I think we're for an international organization, where the nations of the world can seek peace. But I think we're against subordinating American interests to an organization that has become so structurally unsound that today you can muster a two-thirds vote on the floor of the General Assembly among nations that represent less than 10 percent of the world's population.
This was not Reagan the President or even Reagan the candidate, running for office. This was not Reagan 15, 20 or even 25 years ago. This was Ronald Reagan in 1964. Here we are 42 years later, debating the same issues. Amazing, eh?
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