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Ronald Reagan and 'A Time for Choosing'

February 10, 2011 |  3:40 am







  Oct. 27, 1964, Time for Chosing  

Oct. 27, 1964, Programming In speaking at the tribute honoring the Ronald Reagan centennial on Friday night, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin invoked his now-famous speech “A Time for Choosing.”

Times reporter Maeve Reston noted that Reagan gave the televised speech in October 1964 on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater and I thought it would be interesting to explore some of the details. The Times was a stalwart Republican paper in this era and endorsed Goldwater for president, so it seemed likely that there might be some coverage of Reagan’s speech.

My research found that if the address has become one the landmarks of Reagan’s political career, it certainly didn’t start out that way.

In fact, The Times’ clips and other news sources show that for nearly two years before his televised address, Reagan had been delivering a speech on the theme of “A Time for Choosing” to business and political groups.   Given the time references in the televised version (“Senator Humphrey last week…”) , it’s evident that Reagan revised the work and I will defer to Reagan scholars to compare drafts of the speech, although I imagine it would be a fascinating project.



The earliest reference I found in The Times was a July 7, 1963, story which noted that Reagan was to deliver an address titled “A Time for Choosing” to local Realtors at the Long Beach Arena.

A March 16, 1964, item said that Reagan would give “A Time for Choosing” at a meeting of the San Marino Republican Women’s Club. And on Aug. 5, 1964, Reagan gave "A Time for Choosing" at the Sunset Young Republican Club, which was meeting at the Smith Bros. Fish Shanty in Beverly Hills. Although we must assume the speech had not yet assumed its final form, none of these Reagan appearances resulted in a story in The Times. 

Looking beyond The Times' clips, a search of Google’s news archive shows that according to the Deseret News and Telegram, Reagan delivered a speech referring to “a time for choosing” to a convention of the American National Cattlemen's Assn. in January 1963 and a speech by Reagan bearing that title was published in the Savings and Loan Annals of 1963.

All of this would firmly establish that Reagan began formulating this speech in the John F. Kennedy era rather than the Lyndon Johnson administration.  This should not come as a complete surprise as Reagan, although a Democrat, supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential race (The Times, Nov. 4, 1960). 

When Reagan stepped before the camera to deliver “A Time for Choosing,” the polls showed Johnson holding a strong lead over Goldwater (a post-election poll found that Republican voters considered Goldwater “as much a radical as a genuine conservative”).

The Times TV section for the week of Oct. 25, 1964, was more focused on Mr. Magoo’s Halloween than on what was to become Reagan’s legendary speech. Indeed, the Sunday listings show that the time slot was originally scheduled for “That Was the Week That Was,” or TW3,  a satire on the week’s events from the BBC featuring David Frost.

But late on Monday, Oct. 26, KNBC-TV Channel 4 announced that the show was being preempted by a half-hour political ad for the Goldwater campaign: “A Time for Choosing” by Ronald Reagan. 

The day after the address was broadcast, Reagan went back to his regular life, scheduled for an appearance at the West Coast premiere of “My Fair Lady” and hosting “Death Valley Days,” a TV show about tales of the old West sponsored by Boraxo, a soap company.

The only recognition in The Times of Reagan’s televised speech was by Hedda Hopper, who mentioned it near the end of her column on Oct. 30, 1964.

On Nov. 3, 1964, Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater lost in a landslide. Despite the prevailing gloom, Reagan found a reason to be optimistic: "Sure, we didn't expect this ... but take a look at the figure on our side and remember every one (vote) represents a conservative we didn't have when we started out."

Reagan said shortly after the election that his experience with the Goldwater campaign had not whetted his appetite for public office. Running as a Republican candidate "has never appealed to me," he said. Asked if he could spurn a strong Republican request to run, Reagan replied, "I hope I could turn it down."


ALSO

"A Time for Choosing" from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

“A Time for Choosing” was published as a pamphlet in 1964. Worldcat lists it as being in two libraries.

 


  July 7, 1963, Reagan  

  March 16, 1964, Reagan  


  July 30, 1964, Reagan  

  Oct. 4, 1964, Goldwater  


The polls in late October 1964 showed Lyndon Johnson holding a strong lead over Goldwater (a post-election poll found that Republican voters considered Goldwater “as much a radical as a genuine conservative”).




  Oct. 25, 1964, Poll  

  Oct. 25, 1964, Poll  

  Oct. 25, 1964, Polls  

  Oct. 25, 1964, Poll  


  Oct. 25, 1964, TV Times  


Oct. 25, 1964: It’s certain that The Times TV section was more focused on Mr. Magoo’s Halloween than on Reagan’s speech. The Sunday listings show that the time slot was originally scheduled for “That Was the Week That Was,” or TW3,  a satire on the week’s events from the BBC that featured David Frost. But late on Monday, Oct. 26, KNBC announced that the show was being preempted by a half-hour political ad for the Goldwater campaign.



  Oct. 27, 1964, TV listings  

  Oct. 27, 1964, Cecil Smith  



   Oct. 27, 1964, Programming  

On Oct. 27, 1964, at 9:30 p.m., Los Angeles viewers had the choice of “Petticoat Junction,” “Peyton Place,” “Expedition -- Man's First Winter at the South Pole," Ansel Adams, bullfights … or “A Time for Choosing.”




  Oct. 27, 1964, My Fair Lady  

The next day, Reagan went back to his regular life, scheduled for an appearance at the West Coast premiere of “My Fair Lady” and hosting “Death Valley Days,” a TV show about tales of the old West sponsored by Boraxo, a soap company.



  Oct. 28, 1964, Death Valley Days  



  Oct. 30, 1964, Hedda Hopper  

The only recognition in The Times of Reagan’s televised speech was by Hedda Hopper, who mentioned it near the end of her column on Oct. 30, 1964.



  Nov. 2, 1964, Time for Choosing"
 

Nov. 2, 1964: Reagan delivers “A Time for Choosing” once more, on the radio, before the election.



  Nov. 4, 1964, Ambassador Hotel  

Nov. 4, 1964: A somber mood at the Cocoanut Grove, where Republicans gathered to watch election results and saw Goldwater defeated in a landslide. 

  Nov. 4, 1964, LBJ landslide  



Despite the prevailing gloom, Reagan found a reason to be optimistic: "Sure, we didn't expect this ... but take a look at the figure on our side and remember every one (vote) represents a conservative we didn't have when we started out."

Reagan said shortly after the election that his experience with the Goldwater campaign left him with no desire for politics. Running as a Republican candidate for office "has never appealed to me," he said. Asked if he could spurn a strong Republican request to run for office, Reagan replied, "I hope I could turn it down."



  Nov. 4, 1964, GOP  

  Nov. 4, 1964, GOP  

  Nov. 9, 1964, GOP Poll  


  Nov. 11, 1964, Reagan  

  nOV. 25, 1964, Reagan
Nov. 15, 1964, Reagan
Nov. 15, 1964, Reagan  Nov. 15, 1964, Reagan
 

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