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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Mount Vernon Statement: The Fifty-Year Reunion

This item is cross-posted from ProgressiveFix.
A variety of luminaries representing various “wings” of the conservative movement joined together today near George Washington’s Mount Vernon home to sign—with appropriately atavistic flourishes—a manifesto they are calling the Mount Vernon Statement. The allusion made in the title is to the 50-year-old founding statement of the long-forgotten ‘60s right-wing youth group Young Americans for Freedom, the Sharon Statement (so named because it was worked out at William F. Buckley’s estate in Sharon, Connecticut). And that best illustrates the insider nature of the whole exercise, since most rank-and-file conservatives have probably never heard of YAF and don’t much need manifestos to go about their political business.
Three things immediately strike the reader about the document itself: (1) it’s very abstract, with no policy content at all; (2) it’s overtly aimed at reviving the old-time “fusionism” of economic, cultural, and national-security conservatives; and (3) it’s overlaid with Tea Party-esque rhetoric about terrible and longstanding threats to the Constitution. It’s sort of like a 50-year high school reunion at a homecoming game (which fits, because the statement was released on the eve of this year’s Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington).
It’s the third aspect of the document that’s most peculiar. Consider this passage:
In recent decades, America’s principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The self-evident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.
Hmmm. This has happened in “recent decades,” not just during the Obama administration. And ‘smatter of fact, that’s true: the landmark Supreme Court cases that paved the way for the expansion of the federal government to its current scope of responsibilities date back at least to the civil rights era, and in some respects, to the New Deal and even earlier.
That’s interesting in no small part because most of the original signatories of this document were powerful and enthusiastic participants in the political and policy enterprises of several Republican administrations that made robust use of expanded federal power—most notably the administration of George W. Bush, which championed virtually unlimited executive powers, aggressive preemption of states laws that were thought to hamper businesses, and extensive limitations on individual liberty. In addition, the choice of the estate of the notorious isolationist George Washington to issue a manifesto that endorses a foreign policy of “advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world” is a mite strange, as Daniel Larison has pointed out.
Still another anomaly is the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins signature on a document that does not mention the rights of the “unborn” or “marriage” or “traditional families.” But you figure he was bought off by the reference to the Declaration of Independence as virtually coequal to the Constitution as a founding document, and presenting “self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God.” This is Christian Right code for suggesting that natural law and biblical principles, which conservatives interpret to mean things like bans on abortion and homosexual behavior, have been incorporated into the Constitution.
All in all, this statement represents an effort by yesterday’s and today’s hard-core conservative establishment to stay together and try to be relevant to the political discourse in an era in which the Republican Party is considered dangerously liberal, and the Constitution is thought to clearly ban everything “liberals” espouse. We’ll see how this works out for them.

One comment on “Mount Vernon Statement: The Fifty-Year Reunion

  1. Tenacious D. on

    I’d like to see an Ultimate Manifesto Smackdown (UMS) for bragging rights as America’s all-time greatest assemblage of political words.
    YAF’s Sharon Statement vs. Mount Vernon Statement
    SDS’s Port Huron Statement vs. DLC’s Hyde Park Declaration
    Results: Sharon crushes Mount Vernon and calls it “mere pablum” to it’s face! Port Huron is disqualified as Tom Hayden, egged on by Jane Fonda, refuses to wage violence against Al From’s Hyde Park (“even if he is a no-good neo-con wannabe!”).
    DLC’s Hyde Park Declaration vs. YAF’s Sharon Statement
    Results: Without the fighting Spirit of W.F. Buckley the Sharon Statement is slowly worn down by Hyde Park, leading to a standing eight count. But…wait! At the count of six, the Conservative Manifesto of 1937 leaps into the ring and delivers a devastating cheap shot to an unsuspecting Hyde Park.
    Mayhem ensues! The UMS Commissioner calls a halt to the proceedings as From (restrained by Ed Kilgore) exchanges words with the ghost of Josiah Bailey, promising to call in the ghost of FDR for a “real day of judgement!” Check your local pay-per-view listings for the exciting conclusion to this titanic battle for the soul of American politics!


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