Republicans And Conservatives Gather To Sign A Silly Piece Of Paper And Congratulate Themselves

Ken AshfordRepublicans, Tea PartyLeave a Comment

It's like the "Contract with America" from the 1990's, but without anything of substance.

Yup, the GOP likes to sign little manifestos committing themselves to the conservative values that (they believe) the Founding Fathers had (never mind the fact that the true conservatives in the Coloniel era sided with the British).

Today's monumental screed is called "The Mount Vernon Statement", and it contains the typical pablum of conservatives wrapped up in nonsensical (and somewhat inaccurate) evocations of 1776.  Yup, a bunch of 'em are signing the thing at the homestead of George Washington (slaveowner until he died, but whatever), wrapping themselves in the American flag, and heading off to some posh D.C. nightspot for gin and tonics. 

The MVS has no details, and makes no attempt to resolve the conflicting interests of social conservatives, economic conservatives, hawks, and libertarians.  It's just a blanket statement that somehow these groups all have the exact same interests (do thay?), and all of them agree with a very generalized vision of the Constitution, specifically, a call for "constitutional conservatism", which it defines in broad meaningless statements:

* 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 encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.

* It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.

* It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.

All nice, but what would "constituional conservatism" say about a small tax increase as part of a larger plan to pay down the national debt? Does that violate the principles of limited government and market solutions, or is it actually a step towards the greater conservative good of solvency and fiscal responsibility?  If conservatives are to "prudently consider what we can and should do" to end tyranny, where does waterboarding fit in to that matrix?  (Libertarians and many conservatives oppose it; many conservatives support it — does this document resolve that issue?  No.)

There's a lot more to be said about "The Mount Vernon Statement" but Daniel Larison of American Conservatve Magazine (yup, a conservative) seems to have hit upon a major point of conservative hypocrisy:

I cannot object to the statement that the “federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.” This is true. However, I have no idea why the organizers of this gathering think that anyone will believe their professions of constitutionalism after enabling or acquiescing in some of the most grotesque violations of constitutional republican government in the last forty years. If constitutional conservatism means anything, it has to mean that the executive branch does not have wide, sweeping, inherent powers derived from the President’s (temporary) military role. It has to mean that all these conservatives will start arguing that the President cannot wage wars on his own authority, and they will have to argue this no matter who occupies the Oval Office. It has to mean unwavering conservative hostility to the mistreatment of detainees, and it has to mean that conservatives cannot accept the detention of suspects without charge, access to counsel or recourse to some form of judicial oversight. Obviously, constitutional conservatives could in no way tolerate or overlook policies of indefinite detention or the abuse of detainees. They would have to drive out the authoritarians among them, and rediscover a long-lost, healthy suspicion of concentrated power, especially power concentrated in the hands of the executive.

Until we see these basic demonstrations of fidelity to constitutional principle from the would-be constitutional conservatives of this Mount Vernon meeting, we should assume that this is little more than a new ruse designed to rile up activists and donors during a Democratic administration in order to breathe new life into a moribund and bankrupt movement.