American Two-Party System

July 29, 1964

Report Outline
Republicans and the Two-Party System
Rise and Fall of U.S. Political Parties
Future of Two-Party Political System

Republicans and the Two-Party System

Republican Turn to the Right at San Francisco

The genius of the American two-party system, in the opinion of many political scientists, is that it encourages conciliation rather than division, discourages stubborn adherence to extreme positions, and leads to compromise of conflicting points of view on public questions before they become irreconcilable. In other words, the two-party system, when it works as it usually works in this country, promotes moderation in politics. It tends to place power in the hands of men in the middle of the road, or close to the middle, on great issues of the day.

The recently concluded Republican National Convention at San Francisco disturbed numerous political observers because its conduct and outcome seemed to depart from these concepts and to set the G.O.P. on a course that might jeopardize its future and that of the two-party system itself. The efficiently organized supporters of Sen. Barry Gold-water of Arizona, who takes a highly conservative stand in domestic affairs and a militant stand in foreign affairs, wrested full control from the party's middle-of-the-roaders. They nominated their candidate on the first ballot and, having shouted down all voices pleading for moderation, adopted a platform fitted to his policies. They also nominated a conservative vice presidential candidate and, finally, heard Goldwater emphatically extol extremism.

In his speech of acceptance to the convention, July 16, the nominee disappointed the defeated elements who had hoped for some sign of conciliation and compromise. “Anyone who joins us in all sincerity we welcome,” Goldwater said. “Those who do not care for our cause, we don't expect to enter our ranks in any case. And let our Republicanism so focused and so dedicated not be made fuzzy and futile by unthinking and stupid labels. 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.”

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