Another Brief Note on the Mount Vernon Statement

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.

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7 comments

  1. Ed Meese is an adjunct senior fellow of the Discovery Institute and recently complained about Judge Walker of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case. I think he’s in bed with the social conservatives enough to be considered one.

  2. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government.

    I totally understand (and agree with) reminding social conservatives that limited government is incompatible with dictating the way people live. However, I do not know what “morality is essential to limited government” even means, let alone in an economic context. Is that saying that, even in some ideal form of limited government, there would still be rules and regulations on capitalism… to ensure moral conduct?

    1. Could be. Or it could be that the idea is that limited government, by an dof itself, is the moral end to which conservatives should stride, since limited government supposedly unfurls true capitolism.

      Of course, not being a conservaitve politically, economically or socially, I don’t buy any of it, so you may want to take my answer with the proverbial grain of salt.

    2. Presumably they mean that a moral society is necessary for limited government to function, because the main purposes of government in a conservative view is to prevent the citizens from infringing each others’ rights.

      So following that logic, it’s okay for the otherwise supposedly limited government to impose a certain code of morality on society, because doing so reduces the need
      for government in the long run. Or something.

      1. “Hey economic conservatives, our limited government idea falls apart if you aren’t morally upstanding.” And, “Hey, social conservatives, a limited government can’t be in the business of legislating said morality.”

        I think I get it.

  3. These people to me seem the very antithesis of what the “tea party” movement is suppose to be about. They are all deeply entrenched in the Washington landscape as lobbyists, interest groups and former government officials. They all seem to be for the status quo, so long as they are a part of it. The only reason they are “fighting” now is because they are in opposition. The only reason they think DC is broke is because they are out in the cold for at least the next three years, if they were in power you wouldn’t hear a peep from these people about how the country needs saving.

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