In the Shadow of Reagan's 'Time for Choosing'
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Fifty years ago American voters faced a choice not unlike what voters face today.
Ronald Reagan explained what was at stake in a now-famous speech urging the public to elect Sen. Barry Goldwater as president.
The address marked the beginning of a new conservative movement and it's the focus of this year's Reagan Symposium at Regent University.
Before he was president, Ronald Reagan presented "A Time for Choosing." The speech was given in 1964, but many of the issues sound very 2014.
"We haven't balanced our budget in 28 out of the last 34 years. We've raised our debt limit three times in the last 12 months," Reagan said during the speech. "We're against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government medical program."
In 1964, Reagan cast a vision of two drastically different worldviews. Many at the symposium believe those stark contrasts are still being fiercely debated today.
"The reason the speech resonated then and the reason it resonates now is that we have a sense of having lost our way," City Journal contributing editor Claire Berlinksi said.
"For Reagan the threat was always the encroaching arm of government. Things change and they stay the same," King's College associate Professor Joseph Loconte said.
Forbes columnist Amity Shlaes said Reagan was speaking boldly.
"It might not have worked out after what he said, maybe his political career would be over. But he felt he had to speak out. It was called 'A Time for Choosing' because it was a time for choosing."
The speech launched Reagan's political career and soon after he ran for governor of California.
It propelled the ideas of an emerging conservative movement onto the national stage.
Unintentionally, of course, it also foreshadowed today's growing concerns over government control and loss of freedom.
"Our natural, unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile," Reagan said during that speech.
"Reagan saw that if you don't institutionally curb government, it will by default and gravitational pull, a greater and greater pull, that just means the erosion of freedom," Laconte said.
Debate over the speech at this year's symposium drew academics and students, but also many who simply realize how relevant its truths are today.