Friday, July 01, 2022

Liz Cheney for President: Reagan's "Time for Choosing" Speech

Last Wednesday evening, Liz Cheney delivered an eloquent and widely reported speech at the Ronald Reagan Library and Museum in California.  The speech is easily available--on C-SPAN and elsewhere.

To me, this speech sounded like the beginning of her campaign for the presidency in 2024.  She argued that America is at a crisis point, testing whether America's devotion to freedom as secured by the Founder's Constitution will endure.  Donald Trump's takeover of the Republican Party and his attempt to overturn the presidential election of 2020 has created this crisis.

The cult of Trump has promoted a xenophobic political rhetoric in which people see their political opponents as evil people who are not real Americans, who must be destroyed.  Against this, Cheney argued for restoring civility in political debate as a necessary condition for constitutional government.  She told the story of a Democratic colleague who told her: "I hope someday we can disagree again."  She observed that in the past she had tried to understand her Democratic opponents in Congress as patriotic Americans sincerely devoted to policies they thought best for the country.  Even though she might passionately disagree with those policies, she could debate those people without hating them.

If you really believe that your party is the only patriotic party, and that your partisan opponents are anti-Americans, then you will not agree to the peaceful transfer of power when your candidate loses an election.  You might even promote the lie that the election was fraudulent.  Trump and the Trump Republicans have done that.  In her work on the January 6 Committee, Cheney has challenged that, and she is presenting this as part of a political campaign to restore the truthfulness, civility, and respect for the rule of law that sustain constitutional government.

It might seem unlikely that she could prevail in the republican presidential primaries, where the power of the Trump cult will be hard to defeat.  But if both Trump and Ron DeSantis run, they will divide the Trump vote, which could create an opening for Cheney.  (Oddly, then, it might be in Cheney's interest that the January 6th Committee's investigations fail to end Trump's political career!)

In her speech, Cheney played up her appeal as a relatively young woman and mother of five children, who is also smart, well-educated, and experienced in government.  She praised the courage of young women like Cassidy Hutchinson--conservative Republican women who have become disgusted by Trump's immorality in trying to hold onto power through illegal means.  And one of Cheney's most quoted remarks was "men are running the world, and it is really not going that well."

And although it might sound crazy, I think Cheney should consider Justin Amash as a possible running mate.  As a Republican turned Libertarian, Amash could appeal to the Independents who belong to neither of the two major parties.  Of course, Cheney and Amash would have to agree to disagree about a lot of issues, where Amash's classical liberalism would diverge from her neoconservatism.

Cheney's speech was part of a "Time for Choosing" speaker series at the Reagan Library.  "Time for Choosing" was the title of Reagan's nationally televised speech for Barry Goldwater on October 27, 1964--the one speech that initiated his political career beginning with the governorship of California in 1966.  (I remember clearly watching Reagan's speech as a 15-year-old high school kid in Big Spring, Texas.)  Cheney's speech echoed the language and themes of Reagan's speech.

Reagan referred to his speech as simply "The Speech."  For years, he had been travelling across the country giving basically the same speech that he practiced and polished.  If you compare his speech with Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, you will, I think, see some similarities, particularly in its three-part structure.  If you look at some of Reagan's major speeches as President, such as his State of the Union addresses, you will see the same similarities.

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address has three parts corresponding to its three short paragraphs--that move from the American past (the Founding) to the American present (the political crisis over whether the Founding principles will endure) to the American future (the "new birth of freedom" that "shall not perish from the earth").

Following the same pattern, Reagan began by invoking the principles of the Founding and wondering whether they would endure: "Well I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the Founding Fathers."

In the middle of his speech, Reagan went over the present political debates (between LBJ and Goldwater) over policies bearing on the interpretation of the Founding conception of freedom.

At the end of his speech, he wondered whether that freedom could be preserved: "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."  The idea of America as "the last best hope of earth" came from Lincoln's Message to Congress of December 1, 1862.

Cheney's speech echoes these themes and phasing in expressing her hope that America will pass through the present crisis and preserve the American promise of freedom for her children and their children--the "new birth of freedom" sought by Lincoln and Reagan.

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