Study Guide

1964 RNC Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech Analysis

By Barry Goldwater

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  • Rhetoric


    When speechwriters sit down with their pen and paper, or laptop, or tablet, or whatever they're into, they're thinking about which words are going to get their message across in a way that provides the biggest bang for the buck.

    Why? Because words convey emotion. And at a political party convention, when the newly-minted nominee is standing up in front of the crowd to thank them and ask for their support, it is All. About. The emotion. Speeches like this are written—and delivered—to invoke the feels.

    In the world of literary rhetoric, we call this "pathos," the attempt to persuade by appealing to the emotions.

    Senator Goldwater and his team are the kings of pathos in this speech to paint a picture for the audience of how bad things are now… and how awesome they could become.

    First, Barry talks about the many failures the Kennedy-Johnson Administration is apparently singlehandedly responsible for overseas: the Berlin Wall, the Bay of Pigs embarrassment (okay, he may have a point with that one), the civil war in Laos, increasing tensions in Vietnam. To hear him tell it, these two are working on bringing about the end of freedom around the world.

    And at home, things are just as bad. "Tonight there is violence in our streets, corruption in our highest offices, aimlessness among our youth, anxiety among our elders and there is a virtual despair among the many who look beyond material success for the inner meaning of their lives," Barry tells us (32). And furthermore, "[w]here examples of morality should be set, the opposite is seen" (33).

    What a mess, right? Violence, corruption, aimlessness, anxiety, despair, immorality. Bleak, bleak, bleak. The audience fantasizes about going home and staying in bed for a month eating Pop-Tarts and watching I Love Lucy re-runs.

    But wait. Barry has the answer.

    It's Republicanism.

    What is Republicanism? It's "[b]alance, diversity, creativity" (124). It's "free and peaceful," with "room for the deliberation of the energy and talent of the individual" (99). It's "the great framework which assures the orderly but dynamic fulfillment of the whole man" (114).

    In other words, it's everything that the past four years haven't been. It's the cure for everything that's ailing the United States.

    And once the country cures its own illness, the U.S. will be able to "extend its hand in health, in teaching, and in cultivation, so that all new nations will be at least encouraged to go our way, so that they will not wander down the dark alleys of tyranny or to the dead-end streets of collectivism" (95).

    Freedom and self-fulfillment for everyone—who can argue with that? Suddenly, everyone peaks out from under the covers and sees hope on the horizon.

    Those speechwriters know their stuff.

  • Structure


    Political campaign speeches can get a little weird. In 2004, POTUS hopeful Howard Dean startled his audience when he let out this super-strange animal scream mid-speech. Barry Goldwater's 1964 nomination acceptance speech doesn't have any primal screams, but it does have another element common to campaign speeches: excitement.

    This speech was geared to bring on the cheers.

    The most important element for a strong speech delivery is knowing your audience. In a room full of fed-up and/or excited Republicans, Barry appealed to their emotions and echoed a lot of things they'd been discussing with their friends back home. He put a voice to their concerns and a face to their solutions.

    Barry starts out getting the pleasantries out of the way, saying whassup to everyone and their grandmother and thanking the GOP for his nomination. Then he issues a blistering critique of the Democratic Party (the crowd went wild) and brings it back home with an inspiring vision of a Republican future.

    His presidential campaign may have bombed, but Barry Goldwater turned the Republican Party—and modern conservatism—on its head. The ideas he lays out here were the foundation of a political movement that's still movin' and shakin' today, and this speech was structured to propel that movement forward.

    How it Breaks Down

    Section 1: The Boring Stuff

    Every speech needs an introduction, some sort of build-up. Otherwise, it would be like walking into the middle of a conversation. So that, friends, is the purpose served by the first eight sentences of this speech. We've got some name-dropping, some thank-yous, a little nomination-accepting-with-humility, and a few assurances of victory. That's it, folks; not much else to see here.

    Section 2: Democrats Bad, Republicans Good

    This is where stuff starts to get meaty. Ever been curious about everything the Democrats did wrong and the Republicans did right, according to Barry Goldwater? Then this section is for you.

    Section 3: Visions of the Future

    Now that he has his audience nodding along with him about all the evils in the world that had been caused by Democrats and liberals, Barry paints for them a picture, a beautiful picture, of a world guided by Republican conservatism and, of course, freedom. Lots and lots of freedom.

    Section 4: The Grand Finale (People Come Together Now)

    Barry had said a few things hither and thither throughout this speech that made his critics a little crazy-eyed, but nothing compared to when he dropped the line about extremism in the defense of liberty. That little word-bomb was buried between lines about unity, tolerance, and humane causes, but they didn't do much to soften its blow—or its blowback on the Senator's campaign. Looks like his words didn't inspire folks in quite the way he'd imagined.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Unlike many other impassioned political speeches, this one doesn't really have its own catchy title. In fact, it doesn't really have an "official" title at all, not like "I Have a Dream" or "The Gettysburg Address".

    And who really names speeches, anyway? Is it the media? The speech's writers? The person giving the speech? Maybe it's a secret society of gnomes, deep in a forest somewhere, and when it came time to name this speech, they just couldn't decide what to call it.

    Or… Maybe it's because the Senator didn't make all that many uber-nationally-famous speeches, so when someone says, "That speech Goldwater made in '64," everyone knows what she's talking about, and no further titling is necessary.

    Here are some title variations we've seen via the Google:

    • Senator Barry Goldwater 1964 Acceptance Speech
    • 1964 RNC Presidential Acceptance Address
    • 1964 Republican National Convention Acceptance Speech

    You get the idea. In 1964, Barry Goldwater gave a speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination.

    We may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but we can totally grasp the point of this speech, regardless of which title is used to describe it.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    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.

    I accept your nomination with a deep sense of humility. I accept, too, the responsibility that goes with it, and I seek your continued help and your continued guidance. My fellow Republicans, our cause is too great for any man to feel worthy of it. Our task would be too great for any man, did he not have with him the heart and the hands of this great Republican Party, and I promise you tonight that every fiber of my being is consecrated to our cause; that nothing shall be lacking from the struggle that can be brought to it by enthusiasm, by devotion, and plain hard work. In this world no person, no party can guarantee anything, but what we can do and what we shall do is to deserve victory, and victory will be ours. (1-8)

    It's like it was fill-in-the-blank time at the speechwriting factory:

    Insert basic acceptance speech template…

    Step One: Thank everyone and their neighbor's dog for their support.
    Step Two: Pledge unity and victory.
    Step Three: Express humility, devotion to the cause, blah blah… and mention victory again.


    Still, Goldwater knew he was going to be a controversial candidate and didn't represent the views of most of his party. So what better way to begin the speech than complimenting the rock stars of the party like Eisenhower and Nixon, the last Republican prez and VP, and promising to uphold Republican values, move forward in unity, etc.

    The intro may be vanilla, but the fireworks start as soon as the pleasantries are out of the way.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    This Party, its good people, and its unquestionable devotion to freedom, will not fulfill the purposes of this campaign which we launch here now until our cause has won the day, inspired the world, and shown the way to a tomorrow worthy of all our yesteryears.

    I repeat, I accept your nomination with humbleness, with pride, and you and I are going to fight for the goodness of our land. Thank you. (140-142)

    We'd like to take this opportunity to talk about sandwiches.

    But we're not just talking about any old sandwiches here. We're talking about the perfect sandwich: maybe some smoked turkey, a couple slices of bacon, some delicious gouda melted just perfectly under a medley of fresh, scrumptious vegetables… Spread on some mayo and mustard, sprinkle that puppy with seasoning goodness, and we've got ourselves one fantastic sandwich.

    In fact, the only less-than-exceptional part of our delicious, delicious sammie is the bread holding it all together.

    Barry Goldwater's acceptance speech is kind of like our sandwich.

    The beginning and the end aren't bad, don't get us wrong. They're just a little bland, especially compared to the exciting turkey-bacon-gouda innards.

    This speech has some incredibly powerful language in it, and it had a ginormous transformative effect on its party. But then we get to the wrap-up, and suddenly… meh. It's like the last few sentences of this speech could be tacked onto the end of pretty much any nomination acceptance speech, regardless of party, and no one would know the difference.

    Maybe it's hard to write an ending that tops Cicero paraphrases and "human causes for very humane goals" (138). Or maybe the writers thought the speech itself would cause enough excitement as it was and it didn't require a thrilling conclusion.

    Whatever the reasoning, these final lines definitely aren't the most memorable of the speech.

    We'd say more, but those last few paragraphs made us hungry—gonna go make a sandwich.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    Barry and his speech team must have figured themselves poets. In addition to using some thesaurus-worthy words like "becalmed," this speech also has its fair share of meandering, flowery phrases. The language is beautiful, but some sentences might require a second read-through. But if stylish sentences and adorable alliteration are your thing (see what we did there?), slap on a beret and join us as the Senator from Arizona takes us on a verbal tour of the political platform that totally bombed in the presidential election but changed the face of the Republican Party forever.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Literary and Philosophical References

    The Constitution (directly referenced in line 136; several indirect references)

    Historical and Political References

    Berlin Wall (22)
    Bay of Pigs Invasion (23)
    Laos (24)
    Vietnam (25, 65, 68)
    NATO (26)
    Formosa Straits (59)
    Lebanon (59)
    Korea (64)

    Name Drops

    Richard Nixon (1)
    Pat Nixon (1)
    Stephanie Miller (1)
    Thurston Morton (1)
    Herbert Hoover (1)
    Dwight Eisenhower (1, 58, 59)
    Mamie Eisenhower (1)
    Peggy Goldwater (mentioned indirectly) (1)
    God (9, 14, 44, 53)
    Commander-in-Chief (Lyndon Johnson) (69)
    Secretary of Defense (Robert McNamara) (70)
    Abraham Lincoln (127)

    References to The Text

    There are boatloads of books and articles that talk about this speech. Some were even written by Barry Goldwater himself. We've included a choice few examples here, but a simple Google search leads to about sixty gazillion more.

    Literary and Philosophical References

    John Fund, "The Value of 'Extremism in the Defense of Liberty"
    Barry Goldwater, Barry Goldwater
    Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

    Historical and Political References

    Barry quotes himself (and, by extension, Cicero) in his 1984 address to the GOP Convention

  • Trivia

    In 1940, Barry went on a 42-day rafting trip down the Green and Colorado Rivers with explorer extraordinaire Norman Nevills. Read Nevills' description of the trip, and look for mentions of "Phoenix merchant and Arizona historian" Barry Goldwater. (Source)

    Arizona's Favorite Son appeared on The Tonight Show as a guest of two different hosts: Johnny Carson and Jay Leno. (Source)

    Barry Goldwater was a man of many hobbies, and one of them was photography. Scope out some of his awesome shots of his favorite place to be: Arizona. (Source)

    During the Watergate affair, Goldwater was one of the select few who went to the Oval Office and told President Nixon that he didn't have enough support, even among his own party, to avoid getting impeached. Nixon resigned the next day. (Source)

    In 1937, Goldwater's wife Peggy worked with Margaret Sanger to open Phoenix's first family planning clinic, which later became Planned Parenthood of Arizona. Her cause: she wanted women to have safe, easy access to birth control. Sounds like she shared the senator's views on keeping government out of private lives. (Source)

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