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Posted by on Feb 17, 2010 in Breaking News, Economy, Health, Media, Politics, Religion, Society, War | 10 comments

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’s “equality.”

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.)

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  • GeorgeSorwell

    I missed all this, so thanks for the links.

    (FWIW, I’d guess “shareeek” was meant to be “seek”, and as a guy who posts comments on the internet without the assistance of a professional copy editor, I feel the writer’s pain!)

  • Googling “shareeek” is fairly entertaining. I am pretty far left of Olympia Snowe, and I told my husband earlier today I wouldn’t mind signing – but I think my interpretation of how to implement is different than the creators’.

  • $199537

    I read the manifesto this AM. It seems so broad as to be meaningless.

  • DLS

    Frum certainly isn’t a constitutional anything, nor is he arguably much of a “conservative.” He’s as friendly with big government as Andrew Sullivan, who is little if anything of either, himself.

    The statement is okay (if you can make the effort to be unemotional and omit any pejorative or any other negative kind of connotation from it — substitute “ordinary” as a connotation instead, as you should for Obama’s presidency so far — the word to describe this is “mediocre,” though “ordinary” describes it better). It’s nothing special, and really not to be argued against or derided (at least if you honor as well as understand the Constitution). The main thing is that it comes close to being “pie in the sky” at this time. This isn’t in effect anything different than some in the GOP and many of us who are critical of it have said for a number of years. (Note also the 2006 and 2008 elections!) But what will really matter once more, as has been so already, has been what they want to do. Already we saw a pathetic agenda as the basis of another group of people’s “purity list” that consisted mainly of defining the GOP in terms of opposing the Democrats. This is better in that it lacks this defect, but it really doesn’t amount to anything until they not only say what they want (many Americans want this), but how they want to achieve it.

    If you want any other thoughts, perhaps this is also a reaction to the populist and social-conservative Tea Party phenenomon, because there are many “fiscal conservatives” (the libertarians rather than the authoritarians and tradititionalists, i.e., “the Whigs rather than the Tories”) who have been critical of the GOP for this reason for a number of years (as I wrote already) and who want influence over the GOP, too. (Or at least, they don’t want to be forgotten or neglected or omitted from decisions completely.)

    *** Those are fine things, but what do they want the GOP to do?

  • DLS

    “But it exists in airless isolation from the actual concerns, troubles, and challenges facing the people of the country conservatives shareeek to lead.”

    Frum knows what “airy” is, I suppose, since he has no distance to go looking for it. [scowl]

    Frum needs to realize that “compassionate conservatism” is among those things rejected in ’06-’08.

  • DLS

    At this point, the GOP is still better off outsourcing to Heritage. This statement is an item on Heritage’s site, and the statement’s writers may be working more with Heritage and may have been for longer than we have known. Whether you are compatible with Heritage or not (I’m not), they at least are coherent and purposeful or aimful, and they effectively define a concrete US conservative model.

  • Leonidas

    Its a good statement of principles, but that is all it is at this point. It needs a platform to back it up. However, its a good statement for what it is.

    I was very heartened to see this line in it:

    It applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.

    The emphasis of the equality of all under the law, ie., the Rule of Law, as opposed to inequality under the law based on “empathy” was refreshing to see.

    • jchem

      The emphasis of the equality of all under the law, ie., the Rule of Law, as opposed to inequality under the law based on “empathy” was refreshing to see.

      Maybe its just me Leo, but the statement you highlight is a pretty big contradiction to how the Repubs have been behaving during the past decade. They want to talk about the “rule of law” now after pretty well ignoring it? That in and of itself would be one heck of a knee slapper. I’ll admit, if they are serious, I’m happy they somehow managed to see the light. But the skeptic in me wonders if they just say this now because they aren’t in power. I’m pretty sure that if they do get back into power, in any capacity, this little statement will be long forgotten, and people like DeMint will have to explain to us all what they really meant to say.

      • Leonidas

        Maybe its just me Leo, but the statement you highlight is a pretty big contradiction to how the Repubs have been behaving during the past decade.

        Totally agree, the Bush years were horrible in their disregard of the Rule of Law, without a doubt.But this isn’t a statement by elected officials its one from Conservative thinkers. Hopefully they will hold elected Republicans to task as well as democrats. I doubt they will to the same degree, just as I doubt Democratic thinkers will hold elected democrats accountable in the same way they will criticize the other. Such is the nature of things, but we can always hope.

        I wore my RINO label proudly during the Bush years, i hope some democrats will wear the label Blue Dog in the same manner.

  • leosu122

    Internet too free even for limited-government conservatives? On Wednesday, as President Obama and his cabinet were touting the benefits of his $787 billion stimulus package -Internet too free-

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