Published February 18, 2010
Roughly 100 conservative leaders gathered on Wednesday, February 17 at the estate of America’s first president, George Washington, to sign what could become an historic political document that points to the direction of the conservative movement in America. Despite the mainstream media and the left proclaiming the death of conservatism, it looks like the right is back, and intends to fight.
Over year ago, roughly a dozen of the nation’s top conservatives gathered to discuss the realities and future of conservatism after the election of one of most liberal presidential candidates in American history and the big victories by Democrats in both houses of Congress.
This group founded the Conservative Action Project (CAP), under the chairmanship of a veritable godfather of the conservative movement, a man who was one of Ronald Reagan’s closest and most influential advisors, former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese. CAP consists of leaders from all three parts of the so-called Reagan coalition: economic conservatives, social conservatives and national security conservatives.
CAP has become a major force in the nation’s capital over the past year, calling on the GOP to return back to its conservative principles and bringing various groups together to oppose Barack Obama’s agenda.
One of CAP’s top priorities was to develop a document that defined conservatism today, to make the case that all three types of conservative—economic, social and national security—need each other and will either sink or swim together.
CAP formed a working group of conservative luminaries to tackle the project, and General Meese tasked Dr. Ed Feulner, the president of the Heritage Society, with leading that group.
Their declaration was unveiled on February 17 at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The resulting Mount Vernon Statement is subtitled “Constitutional Conservatism: A Statement for the 21st Century,” and is meant to be an umbrella declaration for conservatives in modern America.
The Mount Vernon Statement makes the case that America needs to return to its founding principles, which at heart means limited government based on the rule of law. To the Founding Fathers, such limited government must focus on national independence, economic opportunity and religious liberty.
The declaration goes on to proclaim that each of these ideas is currently under attack. To combat these attacks, it argues for government policies based on natural rights, governing through the consent of the governed, and for elected leaders to be responsible trustees acting for the long-term best interests of the voters that elected them.
What’s especially important about the Mount Vernon Statement from a political perspective is it makes the case that all three types of conservatives—national security, social and economic—must do more than stick together for political advantage. The conservative movement will sink or swim as one.
The statement argues that the highest goals of each of these three groups can only be achieved if the other two are successful. The statement says that economic prosperity requires a virtuous society, that big government is a threat to personal morality, and that national security needs an honest citizenry and a thriving economy.
The room at Mount Vernon was full of leaders from different groups, most of which represented only one type of conservative. They heard the appeal from General Meese and other speakers that they need this fusion of conservatives to advance their own interests. Conservatism is an overarching philosophy, so a government that doesn’t embrace all of these principles isn’t conservative, and can’t really protect any one of them.
In the end, over 100 leaders signed the statement, pledging to find new ways to collaborate. They agreed to work together to elect conservatives to both houses of Congress in 2010, to support conservative candidates to challenge President Obama in 2012, and to formulate long-term solutions to the major problems facing the country.
One aspect that set Mount Vernon’s event apart from many other conservative confabs was the sober, almost chilling discussion of the daunting long-term problems facing the country. America is on a course to financial collapse under tens of trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and out-of-control spending. The family is being redefined, along with the rights of parents and children. The country is under a deadly threat from a global terrorist ideology that will be with us for at least several decades, and it includes people in our midst.
More than a knee-jerk reaction to President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, those gathered for the Mount Vernon Statement seemed singularly focused on the idea that the country needs a profoundly new direction, rejecting not only Obama’s agenda, but many Republican policies from the past 20 years as well.
Whether the Mount Vernon Statement is a one-day story versus a landmark moment for American politics remains to be seen. But if that signing event is any indication, the conservative right is back, and they intend to fight.
Ken Klukowski is a fellow and senior legal analyst with the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.
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