The title of the 29-minute speech given by Ronald Reagan on October 27, 1964 was “A Time For Choosing” or just “The Speech.” I’ve always (mistakenly) called it the “Rendezvous With Destiny” Speech [also the name given to FDR’s speech at the 1936 Democrat Convention] for that memorable phrase from this part of it:
“We have a rendezvous with destiny. We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”
Some then may have and perhaps would still consider that too strong and too dire a prediction. Even if present political circumstances threaten to plunge the next generation into darkness in the sense of loosing the economic prosperity and freedom that the current generation enjoys, surely they’ll find a way out of it in less than a 1,000 years. But the threat that exists today is from roughly 30% of America who would welcome the sort of change that the other 70% will consider to be a very bleak future for their children. How can 30% dictate to the other 70%? A new book by Arthur Brooks answers that question in his book The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future.
Newt Gingrich first says in the foreword to the book that America is facing a new culture war. This time the argument is not about guns, abortion or religion (conservatives won that one) but about two competing visions of America’s future. The one, a minority, is a socialist, redistributionist minority (the 30% coalition) and the other, the majority, a free enterprise, opportunity-based society (the 70% coalition). There is a basic conflict in values between the left-wing redistributionist faction and those who favor freedom and responsibility. The left has taken command of the language of morality and manipulated those favoring personal liberty and the right of each individual to pursue his own happiness into a defensive posture, forcing them to defend accusations of selfishness, greed and that reliable old left-wing standby for shutting down thought — racism. As to how this minority can so dominate the public debate, Gingrich says:
…there is an elite system of power that enables the 30 percent coalition to dominate the 70 percent majority. There are the seeds of an extraordinary history book buried in a few paragraphs of The Battle. How did the coalition of word users come to so thoroughly dominate the coalition of workers and doers? How did the elites on academic campuses come to define legitimacy for the news media, the Hollywood system, the courts, and the bureaucracy? Brooks makes clear that the dominance of the hard left in these worlds is a fact. He sets the stage for someone (maybe another AEI scholar) to develop the historic explanation of how this usurpation of the people by the elite came to be.
The 30% coalition is no conspiracy because they do not need to coordinate their actions and ideas anymore than bird migrations need to agree where to fly for the winter. It’s just what they do because they share the same DNA. Arthur Brooks explains:
[this is a long quote but is, I think, the heart of the message of the book which should make you want to read it, I hope]
The 30 percent coalition is led by people who are smart, powerful, and strategic. These are many of the people who make opinions, entertain us, inform us, and teach our kids in college. They are the intellectual upper class: those in the top 5 percent of the population in income, who hold graduate degrees, and work in intellectual industries such as law, education, journalism, and entertainment. The intellectual upper class is far more statist and left-wing than the average American, and is getting more so.
Consider the evidence: Across most of the socioeconomic spectrum, Americans have trended more conservative over the past three decades. The nonintellectual upper class (engineers, bankers, and the like), the middle class, the working class, and the lower class have all trended right since the 1970s. But the intellectual upper class has bucked the conservative trend: Among high-income, high-education individuals in intellectual professions, the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey shows that the percentage of self-described “liberals” minus “conservatives” increased approximately twenty-fold since 1972.
The intellectual upper class has become the most important party in the 30 percent coalition— the chief adversary of the free enterprise system today. And at the head of the intellectual upper class are our current leaders in Washington DC — starting with activist, bestselling author, and Ivy League academic, President Barack Obama.
Here’s what you need to know about President Obama’s views about the free enterprise system, spoken in his own words to the graduating seniors of Arizona State University at their commencement ceremony on May 13, 2009:
“You’re taught to chase after the usual brass rings, being on this ‘who’s who’ list or that top 100 list, how much money you make and how big your corner office is; whether you have a fancy enough title or a nice enough car. . . . Let me suggest that such an approach won’t get you where you want to go. It displays a poverty of ambition.”
In other words, it is beneath you to try to go out and get rich and famous. I am well aware of the tyranny of materialism. I tell my own kids that money can’t buy happiness. Later in this book you will see hard evidence that this is true. But for the president of the United States to warn young adults away from economic ambition — during the worst recession in decades — is truly startling. Mr. Obama’s advice is a repudiation of American free enterprise culture.
Our drive to achieve is part and parcel of the American Dream — the belief that we can be successful, however we measure that success — and that our kids can be even more successful. If that means producing a lot (and then earning a lot), that’s our business, not our president’s. Or at least, it wasn’t our president’s business until now.
Another new book that echos some of the same themes that Arthur Brooks explores in his book can be found in Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell.
Ronald Reagan’s speech televised October 27, 1964 wherein Reagan gave his support to the Goldwater campaign is a classic that rings as true today as then, maybe more so. Now is certainly as much a “time for choosing” as 1964 was, and I hope this time the American people make a better choice. This video is a bit long for a blog post at 29 minutes, but if you can’t watch it in one sitting you can always bookmark this post and save it for later. You’ll be glad you did.