A Time for Choosing

By Steve BucksteinCascadeNewLogo

Did you choose between a left or right in last week’s election? If that phrase sounds familiar, perhaps you watched an emerging leader utter it 50 years ago last month.

In 1964 an actor named Ronald Reagan gave what has become known simply as “The Speech” on behalf of his ill-fated Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater.

The half-hour TV address, “A Time for Choosing,” wasn’t able to propel Goldwater to the Presidency, but it is credited with launching Reagan’s political career and his eventual landslide victory in 1980 against a sitting president, Jimmy Carter.

You can watch The Speech online. Here are two of my favorite lines:

“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.”


“You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I’d like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down: [Up to] man’s age-old dream—the ultimate individual freedom consistent with law and order—or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”

I didn’t fully appreciate these concepts then; I do now.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute.

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Posted by at 05:00 | Posted in 2014 Election, Federal Government, Government Overreach, Government reform, Government Regulation, Individual Responsiblity, Leadership, Voting | Tagged , , , | 43 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    Geez, I should count my blessings. But I see most of the country vote to put a check on government expansion, while Oregon votes to continue expanding government and its intrusion into our lives. I hear Oregon is only one of seven states to have one party rule, and even fewer in which the ruling party continually seeks to expand government’s impact on our individual lives.

    Some of this is due to the type of new voter migrating to Oregon. They are sold on the idea of growing moss over a higher level of economic production and prosperity. They are rewarded by a state tax system and government transfer system which rewards a significant margin of leisure over work effort. There is more than a grain of truth in the Portlandia quip: [effectively] “Portland, the city where young people go to retire.”

    Another part is due to campaign financing. We saw the sitting Governor effectively buy off some of the state’s richest campaign donors, leaving his competitor Dennis Richardson with relatively little money to establish name recognition and his candidacy as an alternative.

  • Jack Lord God

    Due to the anniversary of this speech I heard it quite a few times on the radio over the past several weeks. It truly is one of the most amazing speeches of the era, and bears even more relevancy now than it did then. Whatever the reason, mankind seems to need the same lesson over and over again – that in our history as human beings, an all powerful government is initially sold as a way for all to benefit from the brilliant minds of those few in charge. It works out in practice, however, as that few enriching themselves at the expense of the many. We see it now in our own state, where just about no job growth occurs, where the average family income is low compared to that of their government masters, and where countless government mistakes seem to always result in those in charge and their friends making a windfall with the taxpayer footing the bill. When a mistake constantly results in a predictable outcome, those in charge doing well and those who pay doing worse, that is no mistake. That is a consistent pattern of behavior that whether purposeful or negligent makes little difference. It is about time people started to say enough to this kind of greed and realize that governments consistent excuse of incompetence, even if we believe it, is sufficient reason to question the wisdom of asking those of so little competency to be more and more involved in our lives.

  • J. Q. Public

    Why do you people idolize St. Ronnie?

    29 officials in his administration convicted of crimes. The term “sleaze factor” was coined during his administration. His administration sold arms to both sides of the Iran-Iraq war.

    And then there’s the 10.8% unemployment and the tripling of the national debt, and the acceleration of consolidation of capital.

    Ronald Reagan’s administration was a disaster.

    • Jack Lord God

      >Why do you people idolize St. Ronnie?

      Your first clue would be because people felt they were better off at the end of Reagan’s two terms than they will be after 8 years of Obama. They would be right.

      Your second clue would be the fact that they expressed that just about a week ago. Obama said his policies were what the election was about. He was right.

      Your third clue would simply reading virtually any news source – unless you are on welfare, wanting to be on welfare, or are in the 1% it’s been a pretty suck eight years for the country. They are right as well. It has sucked.

      But no, you won’t do any of that. Because liberals are totally incapable of admitting when they are wrong. All they can do is finger point, claim it’s someone else’s fault, or do what you are doing here – feigned ignorance about the Carter to Reagan transition. “Gee, why in the world would anyone have thought Reagan was great after Carter? Gee, I have no idea”

      Get out more. Talk to people outside your comfort zone. Don’t sit in the echo chamber of the frothing mouthed who think Carter was great, Reagan was horrible, and Obama is the smartest guy in the world. Would do you some good is my guess.

      • Jack Lord God

        Sorry – cue your posting of some Facebook meme stats showing how great things are under Obama.

    • guest

      You should find it in your heart to forgive Jack. He lives in a very special world that is made up of facts from his “brain”. Facts that simply don’t exist in the real world. What he lacks in content, however, he makes up for with bluster and hyperbole.

      • guest

        this guest does not agree with your jest guess, guest, JLG makes more common sense than any Dem off key one braying on Cylvia Farm or on the dark side of Congress, shillgrim!

    • I don’t idolize Reagan. I greatly appreciate the words and thoughts in his Speech. He was flawed just like all politicians (and like everyone else).

      We shouldn’t put our faith in “leaders” but in ourselves. Reagan captured that sentiment in The Speech and it is worth thinking about and contrasting with what we hear from so many politicians today.

      • J. Q. Public

        Funny how Reagan talked about totalitarianism, then he supported totalitarians, authoritarians, and terrorists when he became President.

        And he just duped people into thinking that they can do things all by themselves. That’s the hubris at the core of libertarianism.

        No company succeeds because of one person. We’re all in this together.

        • guest

          You have opened you mouth an Eric Blair fell out.
          Suggest you both as a teeming pair of gLibbers call Lars Larson’s show as naysayers and enact out your DEMentia on the airwaves to byte Ronald Reagan with your bilk and receive a backlash you deserve. .

          • MrBill

            Whatever you said, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

        • Sounds an awful like like President Obama’s statement – “You didn’t build that.” Of course we all benefit from living in a civilized society and depend upon the good will and skills of others.

          But that doesn’t mean that we share equally in the burden and rewards for any particular enterprise or effort. If we did, we’d be living in a “workers paradise” where “all animals are equal, but the pigs are more equal.” No thanks.

          • J. Q. Public

            Ah, so you’re just another right-wing hack, willing to quote the President out of context to score cheap political points.

            Here is the full paragraph:

            “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

            Sure, we don’t “share equally in the burden and rewards for any particular enterprise or effort.” I’m not saying that we should.

            But there’s something out of whack when the Walton family is worth billions while they have employees who need public assistance to make ends meet.

            I bet if you put your thinking cap on, Steve, you can imagine a world where we have choices beyond two extremes. A world where reducing gross inequality doesn’t mean that we all make the same amount.

          • I didn’t quote the whole paragraph because I didn’t disagree with the fact that we all build on the work of others. But I don’t think that explains the portion where the President says “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” You seem to believe that taken in the context of this paragraph that he’s correct. I simply disagree and think that looking at the broader context beyond this speech the President really seems to downplay individual risk taking and individual achievement.

            It’s primarily group or community effort for him, and I simply think that distorts what a free society is really all about.

          • J. Q. Public

            First off, I notice that you ignored my other points.

            Steve, can you show me a single successful business that had nothing to do with anyone other than the owner of the business?

            Of course not, it’s absurd. All businesses succeed because of many factors. Yes, that includes the work and talents of the owners, but all businesses rely on a combination of employees, suppliers, and customers in order to succeed.

            “Conservatives” and “libertarians” have been successful in convincing quite a few people that they succeed or fail mostly on their own. And it’s B.S. Humans are social animals, and we succeed by working together.

            Just look at two of the words we use to describe businesses: “Company” and “corporation.” Both of those words describe people working together.

            There are other words that we have to describe those who think that the succeed all on their own. Words like “hubris.” “Narcissist.” “Self-centered.”

          • Yes, I did ignore your other points.

          • HBguy


          • J. Q. Public

            You’re losing the argument, so you’re turning tail and running away.

          • J. Q. Public

            Oh, and you conveniently missed the part where President Obama said “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

            And that’s my point. Individual initiative and effort is part of it, but only part of it.

            But I guess you’d rather live in your narrow world where we two options: Unfettered capitalism and totalitarian communism.

          • “The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our
            individual initiative, but also because we do things together.”

            If Obama said that, then I agree with him.

          • J. Q. Public

            So, you’re admitting that you haven’t actually read the President’s speech that you were attacking?

          • I’m admitting that I read it a long time ago and didn’t remember all of it when engaging you on this post. Having now looked it up, sure, he said what you and I both quoted, but in the overall context of the entire speech, as the analysis below points out, I still believe that he got it wrong:

  • HBguy

    It is a time for choosing for the Or GOP. It appears the vast majority of Oregonians have accepted marriage equality and woman’s choice. They also are some degree of environmentalists and largely accept climate change as fact and a problem (Though they don’t agree on the need or extent of remedies). It also seems pretty clear that statewide, voters won’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t largely accept these positions.
    Dennis Richardson was a capable candidate. His economic policies made some sense. Kitzhaber didn’t win by much in 2010 and got less than 50% this time, and was embroiled in scandal and incompetence. Yet Rep. Richardson lost worse than Dudley.
    It seems to me that here’s the choice for the OR GOP. It can keep it’s current social conservative litmus test and prevail in most rural counties and the occasional suburb, maintain a minority status in both houses and never win a statewide race. Or, it can adapt to the new social realities and be a modern Republican Party. It would then hold the worst Democratic tendencies in check, and be influential in both houses and compete statewide.
    A time for choosing indeed.

    • MrBill

      I’ve been a lifelong Republican, but I have allegiances that go beyond the GOP. They can support homosexual marriage and a woman’s right to pay someone to off her unborn child if they want. I’ll still support them the issues where we’re in agreement, but they won’t have my support there.

      • HBguy

        The choice is in the Republican primaries. The choice is whether the Republican base will use social issues as a disqualifying factor for entry level candidates and party officers and disqualify the most qualified candidates based only or mainly on social issues. Republican financiers have tried the socially moderate parachute candidates and they are as unsuccessful as socially conservative candidates.
        The party base needs to choose.

  • Ron Swaren

    Mr. Buckstein if you happen to think that the Republican party’s strict, essential goal is “freedom of opportunity” and the opposite of what you define as Obama’s thinking, i.e, ” to downplay individual risk taking and individual achievement” you are, shall we say, sorely mistaken. Unless there has been some totally remarkable, recent development. In its earlier days it was home to rampaging social reformers, zealots and ideologues, mainly from reformist Protestant groups. And then starting about 1980, it suddenly found itself with a whole new horde of zealous, anti-world religious members, the evangelical fundamentalists, finally fleeing the Democratic party and its secular fellow travelers.

    Inherent within these two groups is the notion that government must control the “immoral” or reckless impulses native to a sizable portion of society’s members. Until you can provide unmistakable scientific proof that all people, free from government coercion, will naturally form the most happy, blessed, agreeable versions of human culture your opinions are no more valid than the next guy’s.

    A couple of social ills help form an opinion among many Republican members that our society still needs significant government coercion: Drug use, and homosexuality. IMO, the Libertarian movement insists that these two issues are either not problematic, or that they will be ‘solved’ should our society abolish the government coercion impinging upon these. Most Republicans, simply, flat out disagree with you. Your opinions carry no more weight than anyone else’s.

    • I never said, and don’t believe that my opinions carry more weight than anyone elses. And, I’m not a Republican – haven’t been since August 15, 1971. I didn’t write this post about Reagan’s Speech because he was a Republican; I wrote it because I agreed with some significant parts of it; not all of it.

      I agree with some things some Democrats say also, and I’ve posted some of those before.

      • J. Q. Public

        Perhaps you’re not a Republican, but you post regularly on this site, which is clearly a pro-Republican site.

        And, just as you did with me, you responded only to Ron Swaren’s comments about style, and ignored his more substantive points.

        I guess you realize that you are unable to seriously counter the substantive points.

        • guest

          IMO, JGPeas IQ lower than a front 9 scorecard. Score that you Dem whimsy barrell of gaffes.

      • J. Q. Public

        Libertarianism is the lie/delusion that we’d all be better off with minimal government involvement in economic matters.

        Workplaces are safer because of government regulation.

        Our transportation systems are safer because of government regulation.

        Our consumer products are safer because of government regulation.

        Our air and water is cleaner because of government regulation.

        We have more time away from work because of government regulation.

        We have safeguards against bad behavior by employers because of government regulation.

        Those of you who hate the government making the lives of ordinary people better are free to move to a libertarian paradise like Somalia.

        • Talk about all or nothing.

          • J. Q. Public

            Talk about a meaningless comment.

            Can you point to where libertarians have taken the lead in promoting steps to make workplaces safer? To make products safer? To do away with discriminatory practices by businesses?

            Government intervention isn’t the only answer, but it’s an important tool, and so-called libertarians seem to think that businesses will make things better for others out of the goodness of their hearts.

            The world doesn’t work that way.

          • The purpose of this post was not to delve into all the specifics that you question, which have and will be discussed here and elsewhere ad nausem I’m sure. The purpose of this post was to remind people about what the broader electoral picture is all about from the context of a famous speech made 50 years ago.

          • J. Q. Public

            Again, from Reagan’s speech:

            “There’s only an up or down: [Up to] man’s age-old dream—the ultimate individual freedom consistent with law and order—or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”

            Wow, that’s really idiotic, and here you are, promoting it as being some great words of wisdom.

            And Reagan (and, obviously, by your non response to my question, libertarians) are really only interested in “individual freedom” for the powerful.

            But the “freedom” to sell dangerous products made in dangerous workplaces is no freedom at all.

            And, as I pointed out earlier, Reagan turned out to be a friend of totalitarians, as long as they were right-wing totalitarians. Or if it just served what he perceived as U.S. Interests.

            Like so many on the right, when your cherished beliefs are seriously challenged, you’re unable to engage.

          • If you think that an up-down political spectrum is “idiotic” then we simply have no basis for communication here.

            For those able to consider different frames than the left-right spectrum, I suggest taking the “world’s smallest political quiz” here:

          • J. Q. Public


            What’s idiotic is to think that’s the choice that we’re facing.

            And it’s especially idiotic to ignore how Ronald Reagan conducted his administration — it was even more corrupt than the Nixon administration, with something like 29 administration officials convicted of crimes.

            And let’s face it, he used the language of “self-government,” but what that has meant from conservatives is to allow businesses to do as they please, with little regard for how it’s hurting people.

            You have yet to respond to my question about when “libertarians” have ever taken the lead in protecting the powerless. I don’t think there are any examples, but if there are, I’d love to hear them.

          • I’ll give you one close-to-home example of where libertarians have taken the lead in protecting the powerless.

            In addition to working since 1990 to promote school choice in Oregon so that the “powerless” children trapped in low-performing local public schools can have a realistic choice of getting a better education, in 1999 we raised 1,000,000 private dollars , matched by another national 1,000,000 private dollars, to provide partial four-year private scholarships so that over 550 local K-12 students in low-income families could make such choices.

            We’ve been running that program ever since, all with private funding, and now hundreds of families have been able to afford what they believe was better educational opportunities for their kids.

            Similar programs are helping tens of thousands of more “powerless” families around the country.

            Families who’s educational options are determined by their zip codes in the government virtual monopoly school system are the definition of powerless in my book. We have helped some of them in a tangible way. We could help countless more if the funding Oregon now puts into public schools could follow students to the schools of their families choice. Unfortunately, there are powerful interest groups, including teachers unions, who keep many of those people powerless.

            Children’s Scholarship Fund – Portland

          • J. Q. Public

            How about improving the lives of children “trapped” in “low-performing public schools” by working to improve those schools?

            And this still doesn’t address my original questions, which were:

            Can you point to where libertarians have taken the lead in promoting steps to make workplaces safer? To make products safer? To do away with discriminatory practices by businesses?

            I don’t think you can, but I’m willing to listen if there are real examples.

          • As for trying to improve the lives of children “trapped” in “low-performing public schools by working to improve those schools, to me that’s almost like trying to improve East Berlin behind the Wall. The better approach was then, and is now, to build a West Berlin and help those “trapped” behind the Wall to escape if they want to. If the East Berlin regime wants to keep people there, then it’s up to them to improve to the point that people freely want to stay.

            Sorry, but I don’t have time to keep sharing examples with you; you asked for one and I gave it to you.

          • J. Q. Public

            Thank you, Steve. You’ve answered my question by not answering it: Clearly, there are no examples of “libertarians” taking the lead in protecting ordinary people from businesses behaving badly.

            And you’ve also given me a chuckle by making one of the most ridiculous comparisons I’ve ever seen: Comparing public education with Soviet-bloc communism. It’s sort of the right-wing version of Godwin’s Law.

          • I didn’t mean to imply that only libertarians are promoting school choice to help the powerless.

            Below is a short YouTube excerpt of a much longer speech that now New Jersey U.S. Democratic Senator Cory Booker gave when he was Mayor of Newark. Booker came to SEI in Portland at the behest of Cascade Policy Institute in 2001 to promote school choice also.


          • J. Q. Public


            It’s great that you’ve shown the world that “libertarianism” has a track record of NEVER working to help average people who have been hurt by the practices of businesses.

            Perhaps your movement should change its name to “neofeudalism.” That seems more accurate.

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