Obama Takes a Page from Reagan's Playbook

Barack Obama’s announcement that his campaign purchased 30 minutes of airtime on CBS and NBC is just one more indication that his resources are unlimited.

By reviving a tradition that began in the 1964 presidential race, Obama is an astute politician learning from the best there is.

In 1964, three men — Henry Salvatori, Holmes Tuttle, & Cy Rubel — organized a fundraising dinner on behalf of Barry Goldwater’s campaign in California.  The keynote speaker of the evening at the glitzy Cocoanut Grove nightclub was Ronald Reagan, then an actor and host of "Death Valley Days."  Reagan’s words gripped those three organizers in a special way.  

After the event, they approached Reagan, asking him if he would repeat the speech for a national television broadcast assuming they could raise the funds necessary.  “Sure,” he responded, “if you think it would do any good.”

On October 27, 1964, just days before Lyndon Johnson crushed Barry Goldwater in a decisive electoral defeat, Reagan gave his "Time for Choosing" speech on NBC television.  A trailer accompanied the film asking for funds, a first for a campaign, but one that would be emulated over and over in the future by other candidates.

That single speech raised, by some estimates, up to $8 million.  It created a base of several hundred thousand contributors, people who were willing to work for the candidate, promote that candidate, and most importantly, vote for the candidate.  But even more than that, it launched the career of a man who would, just two years later, become a two-term governor of California and later, a two-term President of the United States.

According to Reagan, “That speech was one of the most important milestones in my life — another one of those unexpected turns in the road that led me onto a path I never expected to take.”  [The full story of this speech and more influential financial gifts are contained in the new book, "Funding Fathers: The Unsung Heroes of the Conservative Movement."]

Others have followed suit in purchasing national airtime to talk to Americans directly.  Both Nixon and Humphrey did so in 1968.  Even Ross Perot bought two 30 minute specials in 1992.  

So, on the anniversary of Black Tuesday, October 29, the day the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began, Obama will appear before the nation’s people and talk directly to them.  His nearly unlimited campaign coffers enable him to do so.  

There are many obvious differences between Obama and Reagan.  Among those are, of course, personal motives in appearing on national television.  Reagan was focused neither on himself nor his own election.  He focused on our country, how to elect someone who embodied the principles he believed in, and how to make America strong again.  

Barack Obama, on the other hand, loves the limelight.  He does not do things on a small stage.  From his rock-star speeches in Berlin to his address to nearly 80,000 at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama adores being the center of attention.

Facing so many problems at home and abroad, Americans who are hurting in terms of their morale and their finances, will hopefully see through Obama’s motives and the millions of dollars he spent to acquire the time.  

John McCain can lead us out of this economic crisis.  His principles are grounded in sound, free market terms. He believes citizens who earned their income should decide how it is spent. Yet, his campaign is limited in the amount of money it can both raise and spend.  He has been forced to place ads in battleground states only, and he simply cannot compete with the unlimited resources of Obama.

John McCain frequently notes that his hero is Ronald Reagan.  Isn’t it ironic then, that by championing the restriction of freedom (a.k.a. campaign finance reform) he has limited his ability to communicate directly with the American people, thereby allowing Barack Obama to follow in the footsteps of Reagan?