In my lifetime, there have been only two great speeches that started two very powerful movements. One was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s August 28, 1963 "I Have a Dream" and the other was Ronald Reagan's October 27, 1964 "A Time for Choosing." Both speeches started movements which last to this very day.
It is bitterly ironic that the two greatest speeches in my lifetime--just within fourteen months of one another--started movements that are often at odds with each other. Indeed, the two movements are still with us.
The movements are the Civil Rights movement and The Conservative movement. Obviously, both movements were there before King and Reagan made their speeches. But the speeches galvanized the movements. I still remember liberals in tears over King's speech (I was just entering my teen years when King made his speech.) and conservatives mesmerized by Reagan's speech.
I have listened and read the transcripts of both speeches. Whether or not you agree, the rhetoric is flowing and musical. It rings in your heart and head. King, being a Baptist minister, used religious rhetoric to galvanize his followers. Reagan, being a former actor and a political activist, used facts and figures laced with emotion to galvanize his followers. Even though I am very conservative but a strong supporter of the struggle for civil rights, I was deeply moved by King's speech. But what got me involved in politics was Reagan's speech. There are people who joined the civil rights movement because of King's speech who are still involved in the movement. Yet there are people who joined the conservative movement because of Reagan's speech and are still involved in the conservative movement.
Both movements have had monumental success. The Civil Rights movement accomplished the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Conservative movement eventually galvanized Reagan to the White House for eight years. Both movements have had their share of successes and failures. But they are still with us.
It is so rare when a political speech starts a movement. There have been other excellent speeches in my lifetime, such as Ted Kennedy's address to the Democratic National Convention in 1980, Reagan's speech to the Republican National Convention in 1976 and other speeches to the Democratic or Republican National Conventions. They may have moved their followers, but they never started a movement.
Indeed, their followers said about them, "How well they spoke. Let us applaud them." But when King and Reagan gave their speeches, the people said, "Let us march."
To this very day, they are still marching.