On July 16, 1964, American Senator Barry Goldwater uttered his most famous quote in his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination:
“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And…
moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”
The Democratic campaign for Goldwater’s opponent in the 1964 election, President Lyndon B. Johnson, used this “extremism” line and other saber-rattling comments by Goldwater to paint him as a dangerous war-mongering nut who might be crazy enough to start a nuclear war. (Epitomized by the Johnson campaign’s infamous “Daisy ad.”)
The Democrats’ characterization of Goldwater was a bit, well, extreme. But it did at least bear some relation to Goldwater’s positions.
In his acceptance speech and subsequent stump speeches, Goldwater focused heavily on his belief that America needed a strong military and should use it aggressively it to fight Communism in Vietnam and elsewhere.
In the decades since then, Goldwater’s famous quote has often been misused to try to justify extreme positions or actions that bear little or no relation to what Goldwater actually believed or would have condoned.
For example, when the Democrats’ recent health care legislation was approved by Congress, a protester hurled a brick through the office window of the Monroe County Democratic Committee headquarters in Rochester, New York. A note attached to the brick said “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
Barry Goldwater had strong libertarian views and was generally against big government. But it’s highly unlikely he would have supported such vandalism or liked having his quote associated with it.
That seems clear not only from Goldwater’s political record, but also from the words that came right after the famous quote in his 1964 acceptance speech. Here’s that key section from his speech:
“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.
Why, the beauty of the very system we Republicans are pledged to restore and revitalize — the beauty of this Federal system of ours — is in its reconciliation of diversity with unity.
We must not see malice in honest differences of opinion, and no matter how great, so long as they are not inconsistent with the pledges we have given to each other in and through our Constitution.
Our Republican cause is not to level out the world or make its people conform in computer regimented sameness. Our Republican cause is to free our people and light the way for liberty throughout the world.
Ours is a very human cause for very humane goals.”
In this era of increasingly uncivil discourse, the sentences that come after Goldwater’s famous quotation are also worth remembering.
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Further reading and viewing about Barry Goldwater…