Wednesday, July 16, 2014

50 Years Later, Barry Goldwater's GOP Convention Speech Still Resonates

“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” was the biggest applause line of Barry Goldwater's speech accepting his party's nomination as a presidential candidate.

It is probably also the most misunderstood, ripped-out-of-context line in a speech that stands, even today, as a succinct definition of conservatism.

Surprisingly, in 3,186 words, Goldwater never used any form of the word “conservative” in this famous speech. This stood in contrast to four years earlier, when he scolded supporters who threatened the cohesion of the Republican Party by saying, “Let's grow up, conservatives.”

Fifty years ago today, on July 16, 1964, grown-up conservative Barry Goldwater spoke to the GOP convention in San Francisco.*

Most readers of this blog are too young to remember Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, yet it is almost universally credited with launching both the modern conservative and the modern libertarian movements. The principal founders of the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation worked on Goldwater's campaign. The founding members of the Libertarian Party were Goldwater campaign volunteers, and Virginia's current Republican National Committeeman, Morton Blackwell, was the youngest Goldwater delegate at the 1964 convention.

The campaign set the stage for a transformation of the Republican party and Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. As George F. Will has put it, Goldwater won the 1964 election but it took 16 years to count the votes.

Something of a prĂ©cis of his 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, Goldwater's convention speech endeavored to explain conservatism – or what he called “Republicanism” on that occasion, eschewing specific references to the C-word – to listeners who had not yet learned much about it and who unfairly feared it.

In the same speech, Goldwater displayed a certain amount of prescience regarding the course of human history and offered advice to his fellow Republicans who, then as now, often found themselves among bickering factions.

In one, brief paragraph about halfway through the speech, the Arizona Senator summarized the conservative view of individual liberty and the proper role of government.
We see, in private property and in economy based upon and fostering private property, the one way to make government a durable ally of the whole man, rather than his determined enemy. We see in the sanctity of private property the only durable foundation for constitutional government in a free society. And beyond that, we see, in cherished diversity of ways, diversity of thoughts, of motives and accomplishments. We do not seek to lead anyone's life for him - we seek only to secure his rights and to guarantee him opportunity to strive, with government performing only those needed and constitutionally sanctioned tasks which cannot otherwise be performed.
Goldwater also drew a contrast explicitly to the communist, totalitarian vision and, implicitly, to big-government liberalism then in vogue, and recognized the tensions inherent in simultaneous pursuits of liberty and equality.
Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
In a line that could be welcomed equally today by the Tea Party and by the Occupy movement, Goldwater said that conservatives must “resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people.”

And, as if envisioning the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire a quarter-century later, Goldwater made remarkably accurate predictions in this paragraph:
I believe that we must look beyond the defense of freedom today to its extension tomorrow. I believe that the communism which boasts it will bury us will, instead, give way to the forces of freedom. And I can see in the distant and yet recognizable future the outlines of a world worthy our dedication, our every risk, our every effort, our every sacrifice along the way. Yes, a world that will redeem the suffering of those who will be liberated from tyranny. I can see and I suggest that all thoughtful men must contemplate the flowering of an Atlantic civilization, the whole world of Europe unified and free, trading openly across its borders, communicating openly across the world.
Toward the end of his speech, just before the famous line about “extremism,” Goldwater pointed out the factionalism in the Republican party was not necessarily new, but also was not necessarily bad.

The GOP, he said, is “a Party for free men, not for blind followers, and not for conformists.”

Then he quoted Abraham Lincoln in 1858 “because he probably could have said it during the last week or so: "[The Republican Party] was composed of strained, discordant, and even hostile elements.'”

As if warning the Tea Party and “establishment” branches of the conservative movement of the 21st century, or the social conservative and the libertarian factions, Goldwater admonished: “Let our Republicanism, so focused and so dedicated, not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels.”

Explaining that the Republican Party should require no litmus tests, Goldwater explained:
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.
It was in that context – between “stupid labels” and the beauty of the American system – that Goldwater added:

“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" -- the second part being so often forgotten while the first part so often misinterpreted.

He concluded with the modest thought that conservatives have “a very human cause for very humane goals.”

Perhaps suggesting that he knew victory in November was unlikely, Goldwater went on to note that his 1964 campaign was a first step in a long journey.
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.
Barry Goldwater's nomination acceptance speech of July 16, 1964, can be viewed in its entirety on the C-SPAN web site, where you can see people smoking openly on the convention floor.

*Twenty years later, when the Democrats chose the same city for their nominating convention, then-UN Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick repeatedly dripped with contempt the phrase “San Francisco Democrats” in her own GOP convention speech.

(Cross-posted, in slightly different form, from Bearing Drift. A shorter version of this essay also appears on

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Has my interview with Ed Gillespie gone viral?

U.S. Senate candidate Ed Gillespie
Last weekend I interviewed Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, at the terminus of the annual Crozet Independence Day parade.

My line of questioning was designed to discern how Gillespie, author of the 2006 book, Winning Right: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies, would like to roll back the size and scope of government. Specifically, I asked him which three federal programs he would like to eliminate because the private sector or state governments should perform their functions.

Rather than answering my questions -- because candidates generally prefer not to be specific about anything -- Gillespie pointed me to his overall "Ed Gillespie's agenda for economic growth" (EG-squared), saying
One of those five points on that agenda is cutting wasteful spending, balancing the budget. We're going to roll out specifics of that over the course of the summer, just as we just rolled out the specifics on our energy plan, which was one of the five points as well, last week. So we're looking at various areas of the budget where we can cut wasteful spending, reduce spending, eliminate programs. One that I have said already that I believe should not be reauthorized and doesn't deserve to be continued in funding is the ExIm Bank, but we'll roll out more details later as we go along.
The version of the interview published on seems to have struck a nerve -- not with Gillespie or his campaign, but with his opponent, incumbent Senator Mark Warner, and Warner's supporters.

First the Warner campaign cited the interview in a press release that drew an analogy between Gillespie's answer and Texas Governor Rick Perry's famous "oops!" moment during the 2012 Republican presidential primary debates. (The link on that press release increased traffic to my pages by a factor of 20 or more.)

The Democratic blog, Blue Virginia, republished the Warner press release on Monday afternoon without commentary.

Then the Augusta Free Press picked up the Warner news release and basically reprinted it without crediting Warner's campaign.

Tuesday night, DailyKos, the national left-leaning blog site, took its cue from the Augusta Free Press but also drew upon a chunk of my original article.

Most recently, former Reason magazine contributor Dave Weigel, writing in Slate today, headlined his story "The Export-Import Bank Is Your New Populist Fig Leaf."

Weigel explained:
Longtime Republican operative Ed Gillespie is making a long bet that any Republican can win in 2014. The post-Bush Republican Party has largely rejected what Bush stood for, which is remembered (in shorthand) as spending on entitlement programs and immigration reform. Gillespie was the chairman of the RNC for part of Bush's first term and a counselor to the president for the last part of it. He does not make an obvious "libertarian populist," let's just say. So he's spent a strange amount of time ribbing Sen. Mark Warner for supporting a balanced-budget amendment in 1996 but not in 2014 (i.e., after two wars and the Bush tax cuts made it slightly harder to balance the budget). He has admitted that the Bush-era GOP "spent too much," generally speaking. And in this interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner,* he found a populist cause.
"That reveals what we knew already." Weigel continued:
Gillespie is savvy, and spotted an issue that was burbling up from the activist base and large conservative organizations like Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth. As luck would have it, the Bush-era reauthorization votes for Ex-Im came in 2002 and 2006, years when Gillespie was neither at the RNC nor the White House. He's got clean hands on this one!
This episode reminds me of what happened in 2010 when a teachers' group ran a TV ad supporting then-Fifth District Congressman Tom Perriello and lambasting then-candidate Robert Hurt for his views on eliminating the U.S. Department of Education, quoting from another article of mine published on  At the time, I thought Hurt's comments were uncontroversial; the NEA thought differently.

By the way, the asterisk in Weigel's article likens to AOL's defunct

Friday, July 04, 2014

Gay Equality Protest at Independence Hall - July 4th, 1968

A year before the Stonewall riots sparked what's become known as the modern gay-rights movement, pioneering advocates for gay equality -- sorry, "LGBT equality" -- marched in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

The day these pioneers chose was the Fourth of July, knowing that tourists would be celebrating the Independence Day holiday at the site where the Declaration of Independence was drafted, debated, and adopted in 1776.  Their aim was to spread the word among middle Americans that in the phrase "all men are created equal," all means all.

One of the protesters for gay rights was Lilli Vincenz, who also brought along her own movie camera to record the event.  Could she have known that, 46 years later, we would be celebrating gay equality rather than begging for it?

The Library of Congress has preserved Vincenz's film about that picket line (which includes an interview with the late Franklin Kameny, a well-known agitator who coined the phrase, "Gay Is Good.").  Mike Mashon wrote on the Library's "Now See Hear!" blog on June 5:

The Library’s moving image collections are large (1.4 million film reels and videotapes with more arriving every day) and almost unimaginably diverse. We may not have every film or television show ever produced, but it’s a rare occurrence when Moving Image Research Center staff can’t help a patron find at least a little something related to their inquiry.

Every so often a precious jewel emerges from this mountain of content. I admit when I first heard that the Library was in the process of acquiring the collection of gay rights pioneer Lilli Vincenz I had no idea who she was. Not long before the official announcement, Dr. Vincenz’s representative Charles Francis—who was also instrumental in the Library’s acquisition of the Frank Kameny Papers in 2006—paid a visit to the Packard Campus and brought with him a copy of two of her films. The Second Largest Minority documents the “Reminder Day Picket” at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, on July 4, 1968, while Gay and Proud is about the first Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade held in New York City, June 28, 1970. We watched them together.

The films were revelatory.

Even apart from the subject matter, The Second Largest Minority is a tight little time capsule of life in the 1960s -- the clothes, the hairstyles, the manner with which people carried themselves.

Portions of this short, made by Lilli Vincenz on July 4, 1967, have been excerpted in other documentary films, such as Before Stonewall, but until recently only a few lucky people have seen the entire 7-minute record of this historic event.

Now you can see it, too:

Mashon continues:
The images are striking. First, there are the immaculately groomed, polite-but-persistent participants in the Philadelphia event. While a picket reading “Homosexuals Ask for Redress of Grievances” may not be the most soul-stirring call to arms, let’s also not forget the bravery of these pioneers, who faced much open hostility. Contrast this with the more defiantly celebratory attitude of the Christopher Street marchers just two years later. The Philadelphia pickets are still in evidence, but the operative word now is “pride.” It’s one thing to read about how the gay rights movement was catalyzed by the Stonewall Inn riots of June 1969, but quite another to see that tonal shift illustrated so vividly in these bookend films. Powerful movements can begin and be sustained in unlikely places, and how fortunate we are that Lilli Vincenz was there to record this one.
For my 2010 interview with Frank Kameny about the early days of the gay rights movement, see Part I here and Part II here. For his reminiscences of his military service in the Second World War and the movement to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," look here. For my look back at the Stonewall riots of 1969, check out these posts: "Four Decades After Stonewall" and "41 Years Ago Today, the Queers Fought Back."

The 12-minute film, Gay and Proud, which documents the first "gay pride" parade in New York City in 1970, can also be viewed on the Library of Congress' "Now See Hear!" blog.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Are Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber an 'Emerging Threat'?

Last week the celebrity gossip pages were reporting the news that the on-again, off-again romance of bad boy Justin Bieber and Disney Channel songstress Selena Gomez was on again.

The 21-year-old ex Disney star and the Canadian pop star reportedly spent the past few days together riding Bieber's three-wheeled motorcycle and attending mutual friend Alfredo Flores' birthday party.

"Justin and Selena are definitely full-on back together at the moment," a source told Us. "They spent all day riding together on a Can-Am Spyder on Sunset Blvd. Justin drove while Selena sat on the back holding on to [him]."

The insider added that Bieber "was incredibly sweet with her and they looked super happy and in love."

Someone at UPI decided to have fun with the story.  In an email news roundup, the story headlined "Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez back together again" was listed under "emerging threats."

Here's a screen shot:

When I had the chance last week, I should have asked Virginia Senator Mark Warner whether Justin Bieber is such a threat that he should be deported back to Canada.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flag Day Flashback: Does the U.S. Flag Merit Special Protection?

Today is Flag Day, and thus an appropriate time to revisit an article I wrote almost 15 years ago about flag desecration.

The context that year was the approval in the U.S. House of Representatives of a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have forbidden desecration of the American flag. This amendment would have carved out an exception to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech.

The amendment did not proceed any farther and debate and discussion of this issue has subsided. That does not mean it won't come up again, however.

My piece opposing the flag-burning amendment appeared in the Kansas City Star on Sunday, July 4, 1999.  It was apparently part of a pro-con debate on the op-ed page.  I have no idea who my opponent was that day, or what he said.

Does the flag merit special protection?
No: Flag-burning amendment desecrates the Constitution

On June 24, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Constitution saying: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” Now it is up to the Senate to send it to the states for ratification, which requires approval by three-quarters of the state legislatures.

U.S. flag in Washington, D.C.
As we observe Independence Day, it is worth pondering whether such an amendment to the Constitution is good or necessary.

The simplicity of this proposed amendment is beguiling but pernicious. Its essence is to restrict our precious First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression. As repulsive as it may be for citizens to desecrate Old Glory, they have the right to do so in order to express dramatically their views about government policy, American culture or current events. The First Amendment was not designed to protect only popular speech - if it were, it would serve no purpose whatsoever.

In a free society, standards of public morality can be measured only by whether physical coercion -- violence against persons or property -- occurs. There is no right not to be offended by words, actions or symbols. The best response to offensive speech is not punishment by government but more and better speech by concerned citizens.

The restrictive nature of this proposed amendment can be seen in this illustration. Suppose the United States - God forbid - were at war against a foreign adversary. Under the terms of the proposed amendment, it would be acceptable for U.S. citizens to desecrate the flag of our enemy, “Outer Freedonia,” but illegal for citizens (perhaps descendants of Freedonian immigrants) to express their opposition to the war by desecrating the U.S. flag. The imbalance could not be clearer.

U.S. flag in New York
The assertion by proponents of this amendment that flag desecration constitutes “fighting words” -- or speech unprotected by the First Amendment -- leads us down a slippery slope of redefining acceptable political expression to suit the majority's wishes.

Under this amendment, it would be permissible to desecrate a Confederate battle flag, even though that flag is held in high regard by some U.S. citizens. And what about other symbols of our country and its values, such as the Statue of Liberty? Will the First Amendment apply if Lady Liberty is portrayed, say, in an obscene but satirical cartoon?

Some proponents of the amendment, which in fact alters the First Amendment guarantee that ``Congress shall make no law respecting freedom of speech,'' arguing that flag burning and other forms of flag desecration are not speech but actions.

Where is the line between speech and action? The Boston Tea Party was indeed an action: Patriots dumped tons of tea into Boston Harbor while dressed as Native Americans. It was intended and understood to be a powerful symbolic protest against an unwanted tax imposed by the British parliament.

Did American soldiers fight for the flag or for something more?

“The veterans I know didn't fight for the flag, they fought for the things for which the flag stands,” notes Gene Cisewski, chairman of the Liberty Council, which is based in Washington. “That includes freedom of expression.”

Rick Sincere flanked by Soviet and U.S. flags, c. 1984
In his inimitable style, Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, made a similar argument during the House debate on the amendment: “We think the danger of discriminatory and arbitrary interference with freedom of expression is so great we'd rather put up with the occasional obnoxious jerk than to empower the government to decide what is acceptable and what isn't.”

Thomas Walls, executive director of the Republican Liberty Caucus, has written: “The United States does not suffer from rampant flag burnings. People have enough respect for the flag to discourage this sort of behavior.” Instead of adopting a flag-burning amendment, Walls asserted, “what needs to be protected from desecration are the principles of freedom our Founders sacrificed so much to establish.”

The flag-desecration amendment apes the laws of countries that do not respect individual freedom or personal responsibility, where criticism of government leaders is a criminal offense. As Cisewski puts it, “This is the same thing Hitler did to protect his swastika. Burning a Nazi flag was a capital offense.”

The U.S. Constitution is far more sacred than any woven symbol of it or our country. We must not allow the Constitution itself to be desecrated by this proposed amendment.

Richard E. Sincere is a member of the national committee of the Republican Liberty Caucus, the organized movement of libertarians within the GOP.