July 16, 1964: Extremism and Moderation


The Republican candidate was frequently called a Nazi and his supporters extremist nuts.  Sound familiar?  For many American liberals Barry Goldwater was the new Hitler and his followers brownshirts.  This seems humorous now, especially as Goldwater, in his later years turning on social conservatives, became the favorite conservative of liberals.  It was all deadly serious in 1964.  Goldwater had worked a revolution in his party, making the conservative wing dominant.  This had led to an acrimonious convention which was televised to the nation.  In most ways it was a mirror image to the McGovern Democratic Convention of 1972.  In each case the candidate went down to landslide defeat, but won a long term victory for his ideology within his party.

Goldwater’s speech was a cut above intellectually from most political speeches.  It was written by historian Harry Jaffa, who died at 96 in 2015.  The most quoted line from the speech is, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue”.  When the line was criticized Goldwater would claim that it was from Cicero.  He probably thought this because novelist Taylor Caldwell gave Goldwater a note which contained a quote from A Pillar of Iron, her historical fiction novel on Cicero which would be published in 1965.  Caldwell had Cicero say in defense of his execution of Senators involved in the Conspiracy of Catiline:

“I must remind you, Lords, Senators, that extreme patriotism in the defense of freedom is no crime, and let me respectfully remind you that pusillanimity in the pursuit of justice is no virtue in a Roman.”


Here is the text of Goldwater’s speech:

To my good friend and great Republican, Dick Nixon, and your charming wife, Pat; my running mate and that wonderful Republican who has served us well for so long, Bill Miller and his wife, Stephanie; to Thurston Morton who has done such a commendable job in chairmaning this Convention; to Mr. Herbert Hoover, who I hope is watching; and to that great American and his wife, General and Mrs. Eisenhower; to my own wife, my family, and to all of my fellow Republicans here assembled, and Americans across this great Nation.

From this moment, united and determined, we will go forward together, dedicated to the ultimate and undeniable greatness of the whole man. Together we will win. (more…)

Published in: on July 16, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on July 16, 1964: Extremism and Moderation  
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The Kennedy-Goldwater Debates


The Kennedy-Goldwater debates have been called the seminal political event in modern American history.  Certainly their impact on how American presidential campaigns are conducted has been immense, with debates in the style of the Kennedy-Goldwater debates being conducted in every following presidential contest.  One initial question that puzzles when looking back at those debates is why President Kennedy agreed to them.  Unlike 1960, the 1964 presidential election did not appear to likely be a close contest.  The unemployment rate was five percent, and inflation, at one percent, was a non-factor.  Kennedy had earned quite a bit of popular sympathy due to the death of Mrs. Kennedy in the assassination attempt by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 22, 1963.  Kennedy had been shattered by her death, and gave serious thought to not running for reelection in 1964, and retiring after one term.  However, he quickly realized that this would make his vice-president the all but certain Democratic nominee in 1964, a fact that Kennedy found distasteful for two reasons that Kennedy noted to his press secretary Pierre Salinger:  “The thought of Lyndon as the nominee frightens me.  First, he might lose and, second, he might win.”

Kennedy and Goldwater were friends.  Both World War II veterans, they each were elected to the Senate in 1952.  Despite their partisan differences, they quickly became the closest of political adversaries.  In 1963 they began to discuss a series of debates, modeled on the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

The nomination process for each of the parties was a study in contrasts.  Kennedy had no opposition for the Democrat nomination, while Goldwater’s nomination was the culmination of a long going feud in the Republican party between conservative and liberal factions.  By the time of his nomination, Goldwater was the leader of a badly fractured party, and the polls indicated he had no chance to win the election.  Kennedy advisors counseled him not to debate Goldwater at all, and if a debate were held, to do so in the 1960 format that had served Kennedy so well.  Kennedy rejected the advice.  He had promised Goldwater debates in the Lincoln-Douglas format.  Reneging now would cause him to go back on his word, and, perhaps, indicate that he was afraid to face Goldwater, an imputation that Kennedy could not allow.

Goldwater benefited greatly from the debates.  The Republican convention had been a disaster for him, and most of the media was attempting to portray Goldwater as a trigger happy ideologue who might start a nuclear war.  The debate format, where the candidates spent a fair amount of time asking each other questions directly without a moderator, allowed Goldwater’s essentially genial personality to shine through.  Kennedy also stumbled on the question of Vietnam, displaying a fair amount of ambivalence as to what should be done.  Kennedy won decisively, 54% to 46%, but the election was not the rout that the early campaign polls had predicted.  Polls indicated that the public loved the debate format, and the ratings for the debates indicated that the polls were accurate.

The torment of the Kennedy second term is well known, with the radical expansion of government under Kennedy’s New Frontier initiative, increasing racial turbulence over Civil Rights, but most of all Vietnam.  Initially Kennedy increased American involvement in 1965, sending American combat units to shore up the government of South Vietnam.  Kennedy was shocked at the vociferous reaction of his liberal base to this, and in 1966 attempted abortive negotiations with the government of North Vietnam.  His unilateral withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam in 1967, and the rapid fall of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to Communist insurgents, shocked the nation.  Pictures of desperate Vietnamese fleeing by sea to seek refuge led the nightly news for weeks.  One of the most vociferous critics of President Kennedy’s Vietnam policy was Senator Barry Goldwater.

1968 was the mirror image of 1964.  Goldwater led a united Republican party while Vice President Johnson helmed a badly divided Democratic party, a party whose divisions had been on full display both within and without the Democratic convention in Chicago.  Goldwater had no need to debate Johnson, but he did so in the Lincoln-Douglas debate style of 1954.  Commentators who knew the well earned bombastic reputation of Johnson were shocked that in the debates he came across as very carefully spoken, and quiet.  Wags wondered how many tranquilizer darts had been shot into Johnson.  In any case the debates did not help him, with Goldwater winning with 50% of the vote.  Alabama Governor George Wallace took 13% of the vote and 45 electoral votes in the deep south, running on a populist, and overtly racist, outsider platform.  What Goldwater did as President will be examined on another occasion.



Published in: on April 1, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Kennedy-Goldwater Debates  
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October 27, 1964: A Time For Choosing

Ronald Reagan launched his political career with this speech 55 years ago on behalf of Republican Presidential Nominee Barry Goldwater.  Goldwater went on to be clobbered in November by Lyndon Johnson, but the reaction to Reagan’s speech by conservatives was overwhelmingly positive.  In 1966 Reagan ran for and won the Governorship of California.  14 years later he was elected President of the United States.  Reagan had a relatively brief political career, and it all started with The Speech as this address has gone down in history.  Here is the text of the speech: (more…)

Published in: on October 27, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 27, 1964: A Time For Choosing  
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Daisy Ad Redux

The original Daisy ad above was broadcast on NBC on September 7, 1964.  Daisy ad 2.0, below, was released this week by the Clinton campaign featuring the little girl from the old ad, now all grown up and doubtless just as much an expert on thermonuclear war as she was in the 1964 ad.  The Daisy ad in 1964 was widely regarded as over the top and only ran once.  The Johnson campaign, and most of the media, successfully portrayed Goldwater as reckless and a crypto Nazi, and Goldwater went down on November 3, 1964 to one of the largest electoral defeats by a major party presidential candidate in American history.  Ironically, it was Johnson who was planning to ramp up the Vietnam War.  This led wags to opine later that they were warned in 1964 that if they voted for Goldwater that the US would go to war, and sure enough they voted for Goldwater and the US went to war in Vietnam!

Published in: on November 3, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Daisy Ad Redux  
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Liberty and Justice

Barry Goldwater long ago ceased to be a hero of mine after the revelation that back in the fifties he had paid for an abortion for one of his daughters and his open embrace of abortion after his retirement, after winning his last cliff hanger election in 1980 largely on the strength of his endorsement of a Human Life Amendment banning abortion.  However, he was certainly a hero of mine as I watched the Republican convention in 1964 on television at the age of seven.  I do not recall his speech, but I do recall watching every minute of the convention with rapt attention.  Goldwater’s acceptance speech was not a great speech, Goldwater admitting himself that he was no great orator.  It will always be remembered for two phrases:  extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

Harry Jaffa, perhaps the foremost expert on the political thought of Abraham Lincoln, wrote the phrases for Goldwater, although Goldwater, bizarrely, claimed that the phrases were written by Cicero when the lines came under attack.  Jaffa recalls helping to write the speech:

I wrote that statement, in part, as a repudiation of the critique of extremism that was made by Rockefeller and Scranton witnesses before the [platform] committee. Sometimes these things get out of hand.  They are like letters you do not intend to send.  But they blow out the window and somebody picks them up and they are delivered.  And this one was delivered to the Senator, who fell in love with it and ordered that it be incorporated in his Acceptance Speech, and it led to my becoming the principal drafter of the speech.  And, there it was.  It was not my political judgment that the thing be used in the speech at all, although I must say that I was flattered at the time and didn’t think too much of what the consequences would be. . .  The Senator liked it because he had been goaded by mean-spirited attacks through the long months of the primaries.  Nothing in the political history of the country surpasses in fundamental indecency the kind of attacks that were made on Goldwater by Nelson Rockefeller and his followers. . .  But I was not asked for the extremism statement; I had written it as an in-house memorandum, and it was appropriated.  I’m not making an excuse for myself in saying I wasn’t responsible for it.  I was certainly enthusiastically in favor of it at the time. (more…)

Published in: on August 12, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Liberty and Justice  
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