Sarah Palin came here to declare that President Ronald Reagan “was one of a kind, and you’re not going to find his kind again.” But in a carefully-crafted speech marking Reagan’s 100th birthday, the former Alaska governor drew a series of parallels – some explicit, some implied – between Reagan and herself, and between Reagan’s time and today.
Palin was invited to speak by the Young America’s Foundation, which owns and maintains Reagan’s old ranch in the mountains near Santa Barbara. (The foundation is separate, and more aligned with the conservative movement, than the Reagan Presidential Library, which is also holding commemorative events this weekend.)
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Reagan was initially rejected by the establishment of the Republican Party, Palin said. He stood up against the big government of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. He delivered a hard-edged message that American voters at first rejected. And ultimately he prevailed.
Palin’s specific subject was Reagan’s speech “A Time for Choosing,” made on behalf of Barry Goldwater just days before the 1964 presidential election. “A Time for Choosing” – delivered 16 years before Reagan’s own successful run for the White House – made Reagan a star in the Republican Party.
In 1976, the GOP rank and file listened to him.
In 1980, the nation listened to him,
and in 1984, the whole world heard him.
It was also, Palin noted, a tough-minded, aggressively delivered message in which Reagan described a stark choice between a government headed toward socialism and one dedicated to freedom. The speech “gave birth to the Reagan revolution,” Palin said, and was “a call to action against a fundamental threat to freedom.”
Palin focused particularly on a passage of Reagan’s speech in which he said the issue of the 1964 election was “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.” To conservatives, and especially to the Tea Partiers who make up a significant portion of Palin’s supporters, it’s a message that seems as fresh today as when it was delivered.
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In the 1960s, Palin said, Reagan was taking a stand against a president who was expanding the reach of government with expensive new social programs. “Reagan saw the dangers in LBJ’s Great Society,” Palin told the crowd. “He refused to sit down and be silent as our liberties were eroded by an out-of-control centralized government that overtaxed and overreached in utter disregard of constitutional limits.” No one in the room missed the parallels between Johnson’s time and the Obama administration of today.
But back in 1964, Palin said, “the country wasn’t quite ready to hear” Reagan’s words. (Goldwater lost in a historic landslide.) Reagan did not give up, and because he kept trying, “his message did catch on slowly.”
“In 1964, the conservative movement heard him,” Palin said. “In 1966 California listened to him. In 1976 – finally – the GOP rank and file listened to him. In 1980, the nation listened to him, and in 1984, the whole world heard him. So by the time he left office, Ronald Reagan had effectively defeated the expansionist ideology of the Great Society.”