of conservatism" is all the rage right now in the political
media. We are told that the Tea Parties are sweeping the nation,
that the Republican Party is being forced to the Right in its attempts
to woo them, that they are either an independent populist force
or (alternatively) controlled by the GOP and Beltway Conservatives.
Pundits laugh at the lack of sophistication on the part of these
tea partiers (they are inevitably compared to McCarthyites or John
Birchers), but then ponder the Deeper Significance of this phenomenon.
take advantage of this explosion of grassroots vigor — and to control
it — dozens of top conservative muckamucks met on February 17 at
an estate that was an original part of George Washington's Mount
Vernon. There they signed "The
Mount Vernon Statement" with the subtitle: "Constitutional
Conservatism: A Statement for the 21st Century."
statement issued to the press explained that "The
Sharon Statement, signed at the home of William F. Buckley,
Jr., in Sharon, Connecticut in September 1960, helped launch and
define the conservative movement…" Now, 50 years later, "today's
leaders will unveil and sign [a new] declaration of leadership."
who was there at Sharon, and voted for adoption of the Sharon Statement,
I urge you to read and compare the two documents. Then put the two
documents into their historical perspectives.
First of all,
though, I have to note that a statement written by one competent
person will almost always outshine a committee document.
Statement was written by one competent person — M. Stanton
Evans, a gifted conservative journalist and leader then still in
his twenties. Given the responsibility for bringing a statement
of principles before the gathering, Carol Dawson and I made some
minor cosmetic changes, but it was 99.9% Stan Evans. And it was
a real statement, concise but comprehensive in its scope, listing
12 "eternal truths" that "we, as young conservatives,
believe." You could agree or disagree, but you knew where we
While I was
not present at the drafting and signing of the Mount Vernon Statement,
I have to believe that it is the product of a committee. (You know,
"if it quacks like a duck," etc.) It certainly is not
a series of precise principles in the spirit of the Sharon Statement.
Rather it's a short essay seeking to identify modern conservatism
with the spirit of the Constitution and George Washington. It's
not bad, given what it attempts to do. It's just that it's vague
and muddled compared to the Sharon Statement — sort of like the
conservative movement itself.
Statement in Historical Context
Statement was adopted in 1960, when the "conservative movement"
was in its infancy and was still defining itself as something apart
from the Old Right of the World War II and post-World War II era.
Bill Buckley and his National Review were trying to meld
traditionalist, libertarian, and cold warrior elements into one
movement — a tough assignment. This gathering-together of disparate
elements was called "fusionism," and its prophet was Frank
S. Meyer, one of National Review's senior editors. Stan Evans
was a student of the prophet, and the Sharon Statement was Stan's
later, the Sharon Statement has lost none of its brilliance — as
a portrayal of what it was promoting. The defects we note are
not in the statement itself but rather, informed by 50 years of
history and conservative practice, defects in the movement it was
To its credit,
the Sharon Statement gave primacy to the Constitution (and especially
the Tenth Amendment, all but forgotten today) and to "the market
economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand."
"Market economy" is much superior to the Mount Vernon
Statement's homage to "free enterprise," whatever that
is. For one thing, a "market economy" (or "free market")
by definition excludes any government intervention. "Free
enterprise," and the even worse "capitalism," tends
to change meanings with whatever is being hawked at the moment.
The great failure
of the early conservative movement, which led to even greater failures
over the past 50 years, is its belief that the lamb can lie down
with the wolf and not be eaten. Conservatives of the Sharon Statement
era, including Bill Buckley himself, knew that we were making a
deal with the devil — endorsing an interventionist foreign policy,
which the Old Right had fought tooth and nail, as a "temporary"
measure to "defeat world communism." The Sharon Statement
gives voice to this mentality with "eternal truths" 10
the forces of international Communism are, at present, the single
greatest threat to [American] liberties;
the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence
with, this menace…"
later, it's obvious that the devil won that bet. International communism
as a political force has been dead for 20 years — the "victory"
cited as the goal in the Sharon Statement — and now we, the
American Empire, are the enemy of the Constitution that conservatives
swore obeisance to in 1960.
Vernon Statement in Historical Context
The great failure
of the Mount Vernon Statement is not any literary shortcoming, but
rather its utter failure to learn anything from the past 50 years,
and to accept any responsibility for what has gone wrong over the
past 50 years.
The Mount Vernon
Statement reads like a document stuck in the Sixties: "America's
principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our
universities and our politics." There is not the slightest
hint or acknowledgement that conservatives had any part in this
undermining or redefining. Nothing about people posing as
conservatives being responsible for a brutal empire that straddles
the world, the bankrupting of the nation to pay for this empire,
the justification of torture at home and abroad, an imperial presidency,
the evisceration of the Tenth Amendment, you name it. Apparently
only liberals have committed these crimes against the spirit and
the letter of the Constitution.
like the Sharon Statement and the Mount Vernon Statement don't usually
name names, so we shouldn't expect to see Bush and Cheney singled
out for indictment in the latter. But there are disparaging references
like "some insist that America must change" and "this
idea of change." Gee, whom could they be talking about? Anyone
with an ounce of political savvy can figure out that this is not
an indictment of changes brought about by Bush and Cheney, but by
that scoundrel Barack Hussein Obama.
a reason why the signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are silent
today about the decapitation of the Constitution in the Bush/Cheney
era — almost 100 percent of them supported Bush and Cheney
with their votes in 2000, 2004, and (by proxy McCain) 2008. Even
if they uttered some criticisms from time to time, they ended up
voting for the Republican every time because — horrors — otherwise
a Democrat would win.
In short, they
put allegiance to party above allegiance to the Constitution they
claim to serve. And because they cannot acknowledge this, the Mount
Vernon Statement has to be seen as just another partisan battle
cry, not a statement of "conservative beliefs, values and principles."
They were so
close to Mount Vernon, and called this the Mount Vernon Statement.
I wish they had taken the time to reflect on what George Washington
had to say about political parties and partisanship.
lengthy Farewell Address in 1796 I
have extracted some of the warnings he gave about "the baneful
effects of the spirit of party." He was so much more prescient
on foreign entanglements than those of us who signed the Sharon
Statement in 1960, and so much more wise than the Republicans, posing
as conservatives, who signed the Mount Vernon Statement this year.
Franke [send him mail]
was one of the founders of the conservative movement in the 1950s
and 1960s, when Democrats and liberals were the ones who believed
in big government, fiscal recklessness, and an imperial presidency.