“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.” Barry Goldwater's famous line from his 1964 presidential nomination acceptance speech may have warmed the hearts of true believers and ideologues, but voters appeared to have given his sentiment a cold shoulder, handing him one of the most devastating electoral defeats in presidential history. In contrast, Ronald Reagan, who voters also perceived as being politically extreme, handily defeated incumbent president Jimmy Carter in 1980.
Barack Obama took a different tack, trying to stake out the political center or at least the appearance that he was a moderate. In his policy struggles with Congress, Obama would routinely excoriate the Republicans for their unwillingness to strike policy compromises. In summer 2011, during the midst of the debt ceiling negotiations, Obama criticized the congressional Republicans,
“[t]he fact of the matter is that's what the American people are looking for, is some compromise, some willingness to put partisanship aside … [t]o their credit, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the Democratic leadership … they were at least willing to engage in a conversation because they understood how important it is for us to actually solve this problem. And so far I have not seen the capacity of the House Republicans in particular to make those tough decisions.”
Throughout his re-election campaign, Obama criticized Republicans for their rigid, uncompromising stance. Typical of his campaign speech, Obama said this at a rally in Denver, Colorado: “They [the Republicans] engineered a strategy of gridlock in Congress, refusing to compromise even on ideas that, in the past, both Democrats and Republicans agreed on.” Obama, too, extolled the virtues of moderation, implying that opponents of moderate policies were unreasonable. In a major speech in support of gun control legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings, Obama railed against the National Rifle Association and its congressional supporters, “[w]hile this compromise didn't contain everything I wanted or everything that these families wanted, it did represent progress.