On one of the C-Spans the other night, they were showing Ronald Reagan’s 1964 speech “A Time For Choosing”, which he gave in support of Barry Goldwater. You can see that speech on YouTube here.
It is pretty much the standard Republican fare in terms of content, but Reagan was clearly a far more charismatic and persuasive speaker than the Republicans of today. I hate his line about the hungry being on a diet–it’s that sort of thing that got the Republicans branded as greedy and heartless. I don’t know how the Goldwater campaign reacted to this, but I’m assuming their position on poverty was not “it’s all in your imagination”.
But what is really interesting to me about it isn’t so much the content of the speech, but the style. I don’t think people would stand for one long speech, and moreover one filled with a lot of references to statistics and numbers. I don’t know how accurate the numbers he gives are, but it seems to me this speech contains a lot more precise statistics than a modern speech.
To be fair, I think Reagan was a major beneficiary of the style over substance approach to politics, and probably this speech was shallow by the standards of the time. But my hypothesis is that a shallow 1964 political speech has more substance than an in-depth 2014 political speech.
I remember in 2008, then-Senator Obama’s campaign did a 30 minute “infomercial” on the networks a week or so before the election. It was well-made, but more like a documentary, with stock footage and interviews and such. I think the PR people for Obama’s campaign wouldn’t have dared to spend the whole half-hour on one guy giving a talk–that’s dull television.
To be absolutely clear, so nobody misunderstands, I’m not saying Obama had less substance than Reagan did–I’m saying I suspect the audiences of 2008 have much shorter attention spans than the audiences of 1964. But even that may be false, I guess–after all, Goldwater lost, although probably that had more to do with his loose-cannon attitude than anything else.