The Mount Vernon Statement
Can you find the missing word in the Republican Party’s new manifesto “recommit[ing] ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding“?
Give up yet?
It is hard to speak of fidelity to the Declaration and to the Constitution without once mentioning equality as a central value behind the Declaration and the Constitution. The Declaration’s most famous passage announces the self-evident truth is that all men are created equal. The framers of the Reconstruction Amendments specifically added an Equal Protection Clause to the Fourteenth Amendment to enshrine this value in our Constitution and to wipe out the legacy of a system that justified the enslavement of human beings in the name of limited government and states’ rights.
From the Mount Vernon statement one would never know that a “new birth of freedom” occurred following a devastating Civil War, fought over the right of states to keep people in chains. This was a struggle over the very meaning of the nation which ultimately led to our country’s Second Founding and the creation of three new Amendments that dramatically changed then nature of our Union. The central point of that Second Founding was to make the Declaration’s promise of equality a central feature of our Constitution.
Without equality, we have the Constitution of 1787, a Constitution written to accommodate slaveholders and protect inequality. That is not the Constitution we live under today, and we are a better nation because of it.
Another problem: The statement is so vague that it’s meaningless as a guide for policy or law-making:
Today, a group of conservatives has released a document called the “Mount Vernon Manifesto,” which similarly asserts that the federal government is robbing people of individual liberty. The document, however, fails to specify any particular right that the government has infringed.
The document also contends that the federal government has exceeded the scope of its constitutionally delegated powers. The document, however, does not provide even one example of an unconstitutional exercise of federal authority.
Although the Mount Vernon Manifesto repeatedly claims to advance conservative values, the document is not even inherently conservative. The substance of “self-evident” liberty interests will depend upon the perspective of the beholder.
Liberals believe that “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness” extend to sexual freedom, autonomy over reproductive choices, and even to imposing affirmative obligations on the government to make liberty meaningfully accessible to all citizens. Social conservatives, however, do not believe in these rights. In other words, the same (ambiguous) text in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence can support a host of different values — liberal or conservative.
The Mount Vernon Manifesto, however, treats history in completely uncomplicated terms. It assumes — incorrectly, that the Framers viewed the boundaries of federal power and individual rights in unified terms, but that modern politicians have corrupted the system of government. This is a deep and fatal inaccuracy.
Sen. Jim DeMint declared that holding office or any kind of leadership position in the GOP should be contingent on signing the statement. Daniel Larison dryly remarks that, as either a threat or a litmus test, this falls considerably short:
The statement itself is so anodyne, unobjectionable and filled with stock phrases that no one to the right of Olympia Snowe could have that much to say against it. The statement was written specifically to be as inclusive, vague and undemanding as possible. It was done this way so that every movement faction could accept it without complaint. It reads like remedial instruction on civics from the Claremont Institute, and the actual politics of most of the signatories have about as much to do with “the Founding” as does Claremont’s distorted understanding of the same. If I thought it worth the time, I might pick apart some confused ideas about “the conservatism of the Declaration,” but as far as conventional movement conservative rhetoric goes this is unremarkable stuff.
The libertarians over at Reason’s “Hit and Run” blog are not buying the claim of at least one conservative that the manifesto is (or would lead to, in practice) a “libertarian shift on the right“:
If I thought the signatories really meant it, I would agree. But many of them plainly do not. The first one is Ed Meese, who as attorney general during the Reagan administration happily prosecuted national wars on dirty pictures and politically incorrect intoxicants. Where in the Constitution, pray tell, do we find the authority for such crusades? Or for the national restrictions on abortion supported by the fifth signatory, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council? Or for the national regulation of broadcast speech pushed by the seventh guy on the list, Brent Bozell of the Parents Television Council? I do not expect conservative constitutionalists to be libertarians, but is it asking too much to expect them to be constitutionalists?
Hot Air’s Allahpundit wonders what such an overbroad statement of principles is meant to accomplish.
David Frum (Allahpundit links to him) is absolutely blistering:
Here we are, deep into the most serious global economic crisis since 1945. We are only recently emerged from 8 years of a Republican presidency that satisfied almost nobody, Republicans very much included. You might think this would be a moment for conservative self-examination. You would be wrong.
We hear that 80 conservative leaders will gather today near George Washington’s Mt. Vernon to release a statement of principle. The statement, an advance copy of which can be read here, does a nice job of harmonizing the divergent points of view of the existing conservative establishment. But it exists in airless isolation from the actual concerns, troubles, and challenges facing the people of the country conservatives shareeek to lead.
(I admit I don’t know what “shareeek” means, but the rest of the post makes total sense.)