In 1964, Ronald Reagan was a B-list movie actor, famous in movie-going circles for comedies like Bedtime for Bonzo.
Fast-forward to his televised “A Time for Choosing” speech and the American public began to witness the “real” Regan, a somber, serious man who was passionate about politics. A man who would become known as the “successful Cold Warrior,” a two-term president, and for many, the embodiment of Republican party ideals.
“He wasn’t someone who you would think of as a grave political figure,” said Regent University’s Robertson School of Government (RSG) professor Jeffry Morrison. “But this speech put him on the map of national politics and it move him from being perceived as an actor of light comedies to a man of ideas and a figure to be reckoned with…Reagan used his acting abilities and he elevated them. This is the very moment that he’s catapulted into the national spotlight.
On Monday, April 24 Morrison along with RSG Dean Dr. Eric Patterson launched their book, The Reagan Manifesto “A Time for Choosing” and Its Influence on campus. Their book is an exploration of presidential rhetoric – and how the influence of one speech drew an unlikely persona into such a powerful political position.
The Reagan Manifesto also delves into chapters from contributing writers on topics such as the intellectual roots of Reagan’s foreign policy and how he expressed his thoughts on reinstating the original intent of the United States Constitution in “A Time for Choosing.”
“He tied these values that almost all Americans said they could get behind,” said Patterson. “And he was able to express them in a way that was both very, very clear and very eloquent.”
Patterson explained that a big part of the book is both the “cultural milieu” in which Reagan is making his arguments at the time and the “classical American values” he articulated when he made his speech on television.
The launch on campus delved into political figures of the past and present, begging the age-old question: Does history repeat itself? Patterson and Morrison invited students and staff present to compare Reagan’s speech with Donald Trump’s recent inauguration, keeping in mind the communication culture of both eras.
And speeches and sermons in the past were once forms of broad entertainment in their time. Speeches like “A Time for Choosing” were available by broadcast on just a few major networks and reprinted in news print publications.
“For most Americans, that was it. Now, we’re losing that as a part of our public consciousness, about the only persons who gets that sort of attention nowadays is the President of the United States,” said Patterson. “What a difference we see now in terms of context in what is able to be said.”