Julian Zelizer: Risk for GOP Comes from Extreme Fringe

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. His new book is "Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security: From World War II to the War on Terrorism," published by Basic Books. Zelizer writes widely about current events.]

As he stood before the delegates of the 1964 Republican Convention in San Francisco, California, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the party's presidential nominee, said, "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."...

Yet Goldwater soon learned that extremism could quickly become a political vice, particularly to a party seeking to regain control of the White House. The right wing of the Republican Party in the early 1960s inhabited a world that included extremist organizations, such as the John Birch Society, that railed against communism.

The Birchers developed a huge network of local activists, reaching more than 100,000 members. They published pamphlets and books and threw their support behind local candidates. Some mainstream conservative outlets depended on supporters who were in these groups. Many right-wing organizations in the South were opponents of civil rights and advocates of racial segregation....

When Ronald Reagan ran for the presidency in 1980, he worked hard to weaken the connections that existed between Republicans and the fringes. He learned the lessons of 1964 and sought to remake a Republican Party that could appeal to mainstream America. Reagan realized that if he did not, the perception of extremism would pose a long-term threat to the party's future.

Now Republicans are facing the Goldwater threat once again. At the same time that conservatives have every right to oppose and challenge President Obama's agenda, they must make clear that there are limits and that the kinds of actions that we have seen in recent days are not something that either party will be willing to tolerate in the year ahead....
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Richard Williams - 4/20/2010

Actually, it's the left where extremism finds it's home. The left is violent: