In revealing their “Mount Vernon Statement,” “tea party” conservatives attempted yesterday to set out “A Statement for the 21st Century,” arguing for conservative truths from foundational documents and “first principles.”
First, when we talk about arguments from first principles, we refer an attempt to derive rather than assume our beliefs. Query whether a conclusory document makes any real attempt to grapple with “first principles.” Second, take note of a real internal tension even in this very superficial document (emphasis ours):
A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world.A Constitutional conservatism based on first principles provides the framework for a consistent and meaningful policy agenda.
- It applies the principle of limited government based on the
rule of law to every proposal.
- It honors the central place of individual liberty in American
politics and life. [. . . .]
- It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood,
community, and faith.
Despite a feint towards forging one, this “natural fusion” between economic (“limited government”) conservatives and social conservatives is in fact nowhere self evident. Ensuring that fusion is however vital. The Republican Party in the United States succeeds to the extent that it can broker an alliance between limited government conservatives, who shouldn’t properly care about things like gay marriage, and social conservatives, whose active, morally invasive brand of government smacks of the very “nanny state” that limited government types purport to deride. Culture war themes like “anti-elitism” work so well for Republicans because they elide the differences between the types of conservatives through reference to a common foe. Such themes are necessary to maintain that alliance; hence their popularity, and increasing dominance, in Republican circles.
Bearing this in mind, look at the signatories to the Mount Vernon Statement:
- Edwin Meese, former U.S. Attorney General under President Reagan
- Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America
- Edwin Feulner, Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation
- Lee Edwards, Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation, was present at the Sharon Statement signing.
- Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council
- Becky Norton Dunlop, president of the Council for National Policy
- Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center
- Alfred Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator
- David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union
- David McIntosh, co-founder of the Federalist Society
- T. Kenneth Cribb, former domestic policy adviser to President Reagan
- Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform
- William Wilson, President, Americans for Limited Government
- Elaine Donnelly, Center for Military Readiness
- Richard Viguerie, Chairman, ConservativeHQ.com
- Kenneth Blackwell, Coalition for a Conservative Majority
- Colin Hanna, President, Let Freedom Ring
- Kathryn J. Lopez, National Review
Social conservatives (bolded) completely overwhelm mixed/economic-centered conservatives — and those economic conservatives that remain are largely those who, like Norquist, have completely mortgaged their commitment to true limited government in order to gain greater influence in the movement. Might we view the Mount Vernon Statement, then, as not a statement of ideological unity, but a plea for common cause, despite carefully omitted differences? If that’s the case, then, despite the media narrative, monolithic, organized “conservatism” has yet to win back small government conservatives after the fiasco of the Bush years. Good.