Study Guide

1964 RNC Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech Main Idea

By Barry Goldwater

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  • Main Idea

    Barry Goldwater won the 1964 Republican presidential nomination fair and square. But that didn't mean that everyone was thrilled with his candidacy, or that he was thrilled with the peeps who weren't thrilled with his candidacy.


    Okay, good. Anyway, this speech is all about defining true Republicanism on the one hand, and describing why anyone other than a true Republican was actually a freedom-hating tyrant on the other.

    Goldwater's main message? At home, liberals and Democrats were trying to suck the freedom out of America by expanding the federal government and clamping down on individual rights. Abroad, communism and its socialist buddies were strangling the efforts of would-be free countries with their tyrannical, repressive ways. It was up to Republicans—real Republicans—to swoop in like a majestic bald eagle and save liberty from the clutches of freedom assassins like the Soviet Union and President Lyndon B. Johnson.

    It didn't work out, of course. Barry lost the general election—badly. But he said from the beginning that his goal wasn't necessarily to win, it was to spread the message of conservatism.

    In that case, Senator, mission accomplished.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Barry never specifically names President Johnson or President Kennedy in this speech, though he talks loads of trash about their policies and their party. Why not use their names? It's not like no one could figure out who he was talking about.
    2. Which part of this speech do you agree with most? Which part do you agree with least? Why?
    3. Compare this speech to a speech made by your favorite politician or political candidate, current or old-school. What are the similarities? Differences?
    4. Design a superhero (or supervillain) based on Barry Goldwater. What's their supername? What are their superpowers? What is their supermission?
    5. Goldwater said he was more interested in spreading the message of conservatism than he was in winning the election. Do you think running for President even if you don't think you'll win is a good idea, even if you're just all about the message?
    6. Senator Goldwater was considered an outsider in his party. What other party outsiders have come in and shaken things up? How are those outsiders' experiences similar to and different from the Senator's?
    7. Goldwater had disdain for the religious right. Based on this speech, why do you think that was?

    Chew on This

    Private initiatives can't possibly substitute for a federally-funded safety net. Goldwater's ideas about limited government are so outdated, they should come with a horse and buggy.

    Goldwater's ideas about individual freedom are sound principles that are still applicable today; we've just gotten lazy expecting the government to be our Daddy.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona is making a go at the POTUSship, but before he can set up his kachina doll collection in the Oval Office, he has to convince the American people to vote him in. He's already gotten the nomination from his Republican Party… but there are a bunch of GOPers who voted for the other guys, so he's going to have to win their hearts and minds, too.


    The Text

    Why is Barry preaching about Republicanism to a room full of… Republicans?

    Because just like Easter eggs, not all Republicans are the same, and the Senator wanted to put forth his own vision of conservatism and see how many of those eggs he could get to jump into his Republican basket.

    Wait… that's a weird metaphor.

    Anyway, he's trying to collect those eggs (just go with it; now we're committed) using the tried-and-true unite-and-destroy approach. It kinds of reminds us of an infomercial.

    First, he unites his audience behind an inspiring, uplifting, freedom-heavy-yet-still-slightly-vague vision of Republicanism and a Republican future. Freedom. Liberty. Diversity. Peace. Prosperity. So much good stuff.

    But wait, there's more.

    If we act now, not only will we get the amazing and shiny Republican future, but we'll also, at no extra charge, have a chance to defeat communism, liberalism, tyranny, and all of the other stagnated swamp stuff that the Democratic Party stands for. You know, according to Goldwater.

    No substitutions. Offer expires November 3, 1964.


    Communism and liberalism are the disease, and Republicanism, served Goldwater-style, is the cure.

  • Questions

    1. One of Goldwater's campaign slogans was, "In your heart, you know he's right." Johnson supporters responded with their own Goldwater slogan: "In your guts, you know he's nuts." They're both catchy, to be sure, but how do you think voters on each side of the aisle responded?
    2. If Senator Goldwater were alive today and had run for President, would he have defeated Donald Trump in the Republican primaries?
    3. Goldwater's book The Conscience of a Conservative is seen as one of the bases on which modern conservatism was built. Which other books from the same era have had a lasting effect on political thought?
    4. What was going on with Vietnam in 1964 that had Barry G so fired up?
    5. If you could ask Barry three questions about this speech and his presidential campaign, what would they be? How do you think he'd answer them?
    6. Bill Miller, Barry's choice for VP, pretty much fell off the face of the politics planet after the failed election. (There was even an American Express commercial about it.) Why did Barry choose him as a running mate? Would you have picked Miller? If Goldwater were running today, who would you pick as a good Veep? Why?
    7. Which party's platform—Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party—is most similar to the one laid out by Barry Goldwater in this speech?
    8. Goldwater later came out in support of allowing gays in the military. Based on this speech, what would have been his reasoning?

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