Study Guide

1964 RNC Presidential Nomination Acceptance Speech Themes

By Barry Goldwater

  • Dissatisfaction

    It had been a tough row to hoe for Republicans lately. Since FDR in the 1930s, the government had been getting bigger and bigger, and the rights of individuals and local governments had been shrinking.

    People were not happy, at least according to the Republican party.

    Tired of higher taxes, increased governmental spending, and far-reaching federal programs like those introduced in LBJ's Great Society, Barry Goldwater was speaking for a generation of Republicans when he got up in San Francisco's Cow Palace and gave this speech. He wasted no time and minced no words telling his audience exactly what he thought the Democrats had done wrong—and would continue to do wrong if President Johnson was reelected.

    To listen to Goldwater, the entire nation was in a state of serious despair, clinging to their freedom like a Kardashian clings to fame, on the verge of being turned into communist automatons in their own country.

    He pledged to come in like a wrecking ball and take down the deceitful and heavy-handed government the Democrats had created. In a room full of Republicans, his words fell on sympathetic ears. In the general election, however, not everyone was as dissatisfied as BG might have hoped.

    Happy days were definitely not here again for the party of Goldwater.

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Check out the nomination acceptance speeches from recent GOP presidential nominees like Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, and John McCain. How do they use the concept of dissatisfaction to gain support for their candidacy? What similarities and differences are there between their approaches and Barry Goldwater's?
    2. What do you think Barry meant when he said that there was a "virtual despair among the many who look beyond material success for the inner meaning of their lives" (32)?
    3. How might a Democrat respond to Barry's assertions about how Democratic POTUSes are seriously messing up the country?
    4. Would BG have done better in the general election if he hadn't been so hard on Democrats in this speech? Was it a no-go no matter what he said?

    Chew on This

    Barry presents valid concerns about the governmental overreach and decreases in individual liberty that took place during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.

    The the only people complaining about the progress America was making in the 1960s were Goldwater's Republican cronies. They couldn't stand it that Great Society programs were making life better for lots of Americans.

  • Philosophical Viewpoints: Republicanism

    By 1964, millions of Republicans (and a bunch of Democrats) had read Goldwater's book, The Conscience of a Conservative. It pretty much laid out his whole political agenda and the reasons behind it. So by the time the Cow Palace filled up with GOPers on that day in July, most in attendance were familiar with what the Senator was all about.

    If Barry G's book was a concert, this speech was like the encore performance. All of his biggest fans were there, cheering him on as he performed the song they'd all been waiting to hear. For the rest of us who weren't at the convention, maybe haven't read the book, and weren't even alive in 1964, here's a quick overview:

    The whole purpose of government is to maximize individual freedom while still maintaining order. According to Barry, each member of the human species is a unique and special snowflake. The economic and spiritual parts of our snowflake selves are inextricably intertwined, and one part can't be free unless both parts are free. Furthermore, every person is responsible for their own development into their best self; the outside world can't do it for us.

    That sounds great and all, but what does it look like in practice?

    Well, says the Senator, it looks like a government that stays as far out of people's personal lives as possible, because government intervention never except never actually solves social problems. It looks like a national defense system that is strong enough to (a) make sure no one (like evil communists) messes with we Americans while we're getting our freedom on, and (b) help other countries make sure no one (like evil communists) keeps them from getting their freedom on too.

    Whether we know Barry's lyrics by heart or we're a first-time listener, this speech definitely gives us a pretty good idea of what his brand of conservatism is all about.

    Fun fact: A month after BGs speech, the Beatles performed at the Cow Palace. Personally, we think that performance would've been way more fun.

    Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Republicanism

    1. Barry's notions of 'divine will' and 'God-given freedom' are very similar to the United Nations' description of human rights. Should Barry just have said 'human rights' and ditched the religious references? Why or why not?
    2. How can different definitions of equality lead to freedom on one hand and conformism on the other?
    3. Do you agree with Barry that "only the strong can keep the peace" (56)?
    4. Do you think that government is more effective at the local level or the national level? Why? Would Goldwater agree with you?

    Chew on This

    Goldwater's Republicanism sounds awful; people need guidance and support from the government to help them truly reach their potential.

    Goldwater's right; we don't need politicians in Washington telling us how to live our lives.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    In our vision of an ideal future, chocolate and tacos figure prominently.

    Not together, of course; that would be gross.

    Unless we're talking about Choco Tacos, which are actually pretty delicious.

    Surprisingly, Barry Goldwater doesn't mention Choco Tacos when he's talking about his vision for the future. However, despite that huge oversight, his audience still gets pretty amped about what he does have to say, and it goes something like this:

    Communism will perish. People all over the world will be free and prosperous and creative. Our kids will have awesome role models. And America's going to be right there making it happen.

    These are Big Dreams. That's what nominating speeches are supposed to be about.

    Really, the only thing that could make it better was if, instead of those "I Voted" stickers that melt in the dryer because we forgot to take them off, we'd all get a Choco Taco.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Goldwater suggests that ridding the world of communism would rid it of tyranny. Do you agree? Why or why not?
    2. It's been over 50 years since this speech was given. Are we closer to or farther from Goldwater's future vision than we were then? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
    3. What are some specific "misunderstandings of the past" between the Americas that Goldwater would like to submerge in rising tides of goodness (87)?
    4. Are there any similarities between Goldwater's vision and LBJ's Great Society? If so, what are they? If not, what are the major differences?

    Chew on This

    BG's vision was vague and over-idealistic. No wonder this dude got crushed in the general election.

    BG's vision was sound; he just got painted as an extremist and people overlooked the practical aspects of what he was saying.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    Some people just can't stand being told what to do, even if it's for our own good. Every person in America, for example.

    For Barry Goldwater, tyranny could take a number of forms. Basically, any infringement on individual freedom—other than those put in place to maintain order—is a form of tyranny.

    Being that it was smack in the middle of the Cold War era, Goldwater, and pretty much all of America, saw communism as the reigning tyranny of their day. A state-controlled economy, and basically state-controlled everything, goes against everything America was founded on. The dreariness of the Soviet Union wasn't helping communism's PR campaign at all.

    But communism wasn't the only tyranny game in town, and Barry Goldwater saw many of the goals of liberalism as heading down that tyrannical path. If a man can't be free unless both his spiritual and economic sides are free, and if a centralized government is attempting to take those liberties away, it must be tyrannical, right? Any help you accept from the government is a liberty-sucking, dependency-inducing, initiative-destroying scheme by a government just looking to take more control over your life.

    Or maybe that's stretching it just a touch.

    Questions About Freedom and Tyranny

    1. Consider current political debates about the War on Terror. How are they similar to past debates about the threat of communism? What's different?
    2. Does Goldwater address the difference between necessary federal government intervention and tyranny?
    3. Goldwater said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Did he think his views were extremist?
    4. What kind of federal government programs did Barry see as a threat to liberty?

    Chew on This

    Government assistance might seem benign, but you don't get something for nothing—the government will demand more say over your life.

    Holy overstatement, OMG. Communism, liberalism, and tyranny are three totally different things. The Senator is way off base here.

  • Equality

    The whole concept of equality should be pretty easy to nail down, right? Things are equal when they're the same. That's just elementary school math.

    But really, it's not that simple. At least, not when it comes to politics.

    In this speech, Barry Goldwater touches on one of the fundamental differences between conservative and liberal political philosophies: the definition of equality. But like we said, he touches on it. He doesn't explain it. So let's take a second to do that now.

    Most conservative philosophies say we're born equal in the eyes of the law, and that's that. Equality achieved. Little to no maintenance required.

    Most liberal philosophies say that it's the government's job to make sure we're all treated equally, have equal access to equal opportunities, etc. This is a battle that the government must continue to fight, because left to their own devices, people will all scramble to benefit themselves at the expense of others.

    To listen to Goldwater, those leaning toward the liberal side are totally confused about what equality actually is. And furthermore, this confusion has led to all kinds of bad stuff happening, like tyranny, despotism, and human cloning. Not actual human cloning—this is a political speech, not an X Files episode—but pretty much the next closest thing: enforced human conformity.

    Losing our individuality has always been Americans' deepest fear: pod-people, groupthink, Stepford wives—it's the stuff of horror movies. And according to Barry, it all starts with the Democrats warped ideas about equality. Who knew?

    Questions About Equality

    1. Why would Goldwater think that the government shouldn't try to enforce equality?
    2. Do you think Goldwater would allow that there are instances in history where it's been necessary for the government to step in and enforce legal equality?
    3. Goldwater seems to assume that there is always equality of opportunity in our great nation. What do you think?

    Chew on This

    Goldwater believed that people are born equal under the law, and what happens after that is up to them. The Constitution did its part now we have to do ours.

    Barry's ignoring some blatant truths about human nature.

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