Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Extremism In the Defense of Liberty

"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Barry Goldwater
July 16, 1964

He was called Mr. Conservative when he sought the presidency 50 years ago. Sixteen years later, when Ronald Reagan accepted the Republican nomination, he was called a "voice in the wilderness." Barry Goldwater's presidential nomination in 1964 was a "precursor" to Reagan's triumph in 1980, writes the Arizona Republic.

Fifty years ago tonight, Barry Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination to run against President Lyndon Johnson. As the Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News–Miner wrote recently, "The Goldwater nomination, with its conservative revolution, pulled the GOP clearly to the right on the political spectrum. No more hanging at or near the center."

Until eight months earlier, he and everyone else expected the Democratic nominee to be President John F. Kennedy, but Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas.

1964 was "the year of Goldwater," historian William Manchester wrote. "In seven consecutive national conventions of the past ... Republican conservatives had suppressed their yearning for a presidential candidate from their own ranks. This time they did not suppress it. ... They wanted A Choice, Not An Echo, as their placards proclaimed, and on July 15 they nominated Barry Morris Goldwater, Arizona's senior senator and a denizen of deep right field."

The next night, when Goldwater was about to deliver his acceptance speech (which was ranked #62 of the Top 100 speeches of the 20th century by American Rhetoric), he was introduced by former Vice President Richard Nixon. 1964 would be the only time between 1952 and 1972 that Nixon was not on the Republican ticket. In fact, it would be the only time between 1952 and 2004 that a Nixon, Bush or Dole did not appear on the GOP ticket.

"Proclaiming himself 'a simple soldier in the ranks' of the party he had led four years before," historian Theodore White wrote, "Nixon pointed to the uplands where the Republicans must go, urged them to follow their new and great American leader, and concluded as he pointed, turning to the flag–draped catwalk that led to the speaker's rostrum, 'Down this corridor will walk a man into the pages of history.'

"For a moment, the thousands gathered in the Cow Palace held themselves in check," White wrote, "like a wave curling to surf. And then, as Barry Goldwater appeared, the surf burst."

"From this moment, united and determined, we will go forward together," Goldwater told the delegates after acknowledging the prominent guests, Nixon among them — many of them had not supported him as he sought the nomination — "dedicated to the ultimate and undeniable greatness of the whole man. Together we will win."

The Republicans did not win that election, of course. "It was over before it began," White concluded in his book about the 1964 presidential campaign. "The issue had been decided long before — perhaps within minutes of the fatal shot at Dallas."

But, as insurgents always do at conventions when they have succeeded in toppling the establishment, the delegates in San Francisco cheered wildly for Goldwater and his conservative vision.

And, on this night 50 years ago, Goldwater may have reached his rhetorical peak.

At times, Goldwater was almost evangelical. "Our people have followed false prophets," he told the delegates at one point.

At others, he was pragmatic about what he perceived as the failures of the administration and the risks of those failures. "During four futile years," he said, "the administration which we shall replace has distorted and lost that vision. It has talked and talked and talked and talked the words of freedom, but it has failed and failed and failed in the works of freedom. ...

"Failures proclaim lost leadership, obscure purpose, weakening will and the risk of inciting our sworn enemies to new aggressions and to new excesses,"
he said.

"And the speaker was leading his audience way out there into a new world, a crusader's world unexpressed in American politics for generations — the visionary prophet and the martial patriot alternating, first the prophet, then the patriot, over and over again," observed White.

"The good Lord raised this mighty Republic to be a home for the brave and to flourish as the land of the free," Goldwater said, "not to stagnate in the swampland of collectivism, not to cringe before the bullying of communism."

At the end of his speech came the "final, unforgettable thrust at the party moderates," wrote White.

"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

When he had finished, the 1964 Republican convention came to its conclusion.

It did not nominate a president, but it was historic in some ways.

The name of Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine was placed in nomination. It was the first time a woman's name had been placed in nomination at a major party's convention. She only received the support of 27 delegates (out of 1,308), but she has that distinction in the history books.

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