“The Speech?”

In the latest issue of the Weekly Standard has referred to the remarkably effective speech by Governor Sarah Palin at last week’s Republican National Convention in a headline as “The Speech.” According the Standard, the three salient features of the speech were (1) that it could only be delivered by a genuine Washington Outsider, (2) that its critique struck at Senator Barack Obama’s lack of public accomplishments, and (3) that it offered the prospect of an advocate for special needs children. This analysis is accurate but lost in the details. The real value of the speech was that it introduced an articulate, tough, and likable new political force; a force that could represent a generational change in the Republican Party.

However, the reference to “The Speech” harkens back to another speech that publicly introduced a new political face. In October 1964, Ronald Reagan delivered an impassioned plea for the West to stand up to the Soviets and the Left as he endorsed Barry Goldwater for president. The formal name of the speech was “A Time For Choosing,” but it has come to be known among Reagan acolytes as “The Speech.”

Palin’s speech is analogous to Reagan’s in that we may find in hindsight that it introduced an important political power, but that is the only way in that it is comparable. Reagan, as a private citizen, had spent nearly a decade honing his political philosophy and world view as articulated in speeches to various groups usually under the sponsorship of General Electric. Reagan’s famous speech had actually been delivered various times before, but this particular televised delivery is how the country became acutely aware of Reagan’s ability to communicate his vision and most importantly what that vision was.

Reagan really never had to introduce himself in his political career. His career in the entertainment industry formed that introduction for him. Palin was unknown out of Alaska, so the purpose of her speech had to be different than Reagan’s endorsement of Goldwater.

Palin has the time timing of practiced orator and the temperament of a politician who can read the mood of her audience. She shares this skill with the likes of Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt. The Standard probably never consciously meant to associate Palin’s performance with “The Speech;” but the term should, like the number of particularly talented ballplayers, be retired. There is only one example of “The Speech.”

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