Mount Vernon Mush


On the left, Glenn Reynolds. On the right, a GOP that takes its libertarian rhetoric seriously.

A bunch of right-wing heavyweights (and middleweights, and lightweights) have put together the Mount Vernon Statement, purportedly a manifesto for "constitutional conservatism." Glenn Reynolds writes that it's "heavy on small-government stuff, and light on social-issue meddling," and he suggests that "this supports the notion of a libertarian shift on the right."

I suppose it's significant that the authors felt their agenda would be more appealing if it were framed with somewhat libertarian language, and if that's all that Reynolds means then I don't disagree. But the rhetoric here is so all-inclusive and platitudinous as to be practically meaningless. Even the plank on foreign policy is carefully phrased so that both hawks and doves can embrace it: The text supports "advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world" while adding that we should "prudently" consider "what we can and should do to that end," a resolution that depending on your concept of prudence could entail anything from cutting a few dictators' share of the foreign aid budget to invading China.

I understand the need to forge coalitions. But there's also a need to weed the serious insurgents from the opportunists whose reaction to every grassroots movement on the right is to try to coopt it on behalf of the party that brought you the K Street Project, Medicare Part D, and the Patriot Act. How much weeding took place here? The first signature on the document belongs to Ed Meese. That should tell you all you need to know.

NEXT: Flashbangs Under Fire

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  1. Prof Reynolds is a furry?

    1. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  2. More inspired statements to be thoroughly forgotten once in power.

    Who honestly gets excited about this shit?

    1. "Maybe they mean it this time!"

      1. Honest Honey, I really love you. I won't beat you ever again. Just give me another chance.

        1. Ok baby. Bend over.

  3. I suppose it's significant that the authors felt their agenda would be more appealing if it were framed with somewhat libertarian language, and if that's all that Reynolds means then I don't disagree. But the rhetoric here is so all-inclusive and platitudinous as to be practically meaningless.

    "You left side of tracks, yes, you right side of tracks, yes . . . if you middle of track, you get run over."

    Mr. Miyagi.

  4. Hold it Jesse. Has it ever occurred to you that not everyone is a doctrinaire Libertarian? You sound as stupid in this post as the NYT reporters do when reporting shock that some Tea Party people actually object to government.

    Some people for better or worse don't think drugs should be legal. And some people don't think that there is anything wrong with indecency laws. And those people also have a problem with running up a 1.7 trillion dollar deficit and nationalizing half of the industry in the country. And shockingly enough, they actually believe in their positions. And they do so out of real conviction not because they are K street whores.

    Instead of being a doctrinaire prick about everything, why not try to work with people where you can and get a few things done? It is funny the double standard here. Libertarians will gladly work with socialist hard left liberals on civil liberties issues. But they have fainting fits at the thought of working with social conservatives on economic freedom issues.

    1. Whatever script you're following, John, it doesn't have much to do with what I wrote. The post says nothing at all about whether libertarians should work with social conservatives on matters of shared interest.

      1. Jesse

        "I understand the need to forge coalitions. But there's also a need to weed the serious insurgents from the opportunists whose reaction to every grassroots movement on the right is to try to coopt it on behalf of the party that brought you the K Street Project, Medicare Part D, and the Patriot Act"

        That seems to imply to me that everyone who ever supported anything on the list did so because they were a "K Street whore" I find that highly insulting. Some people actually believe in things you don't. And they are sincere about it. And they also do so while at the same time agreeing with you on other things.

        1. All I can say is that that's a very curious reading of those two sentences. I said that the statement was so vague it could attract both insurgents and opportunists, not that everyone who signed it was an opportunist.

    2. But these signatories have no credibility on the deficit issue or the bailouts.

      If they cared about deficits, bailouts, regulation, entitlements, etc., they would have gutted Bush like a fish. And they didn't.

      That's the real reason not to believe them.

      Do I distrust them because of their views on the war on terror and the war on drugs? Sure.

      But it's the fact that they totally lie EVEN ABOUT THE THINGS YOU CLAIM WE HAVE IN COMMON that makes me laugh at this statement and pee on it.

      I don't believe them on the economic freedom issues EITHER, John. That's the point.

      1. I'm with Fluffy on this one. Hell, I don't think we should even work with liberals on social issues. They fuck us down the road too, only more honestly than the conservatives do. You *know* they're the scorpion that's going to sting you half way across. They don't even try and hide that. The cons though, it's in their nature to deny that they will. We're this week's sweet thing and they'd never, never do anything to hurt us.

        Having worked with Ed Meese for a couple years, I can say that I think he's a decent and honest man. I think in his heart of hearts that he does believe in economic liberty, as do most of the SoCons.

        The trouble is that they will sell us out in a second to pound the puritanical drum, or to score a few more points in the WoD, especially the goose-steppers over at FRC. They're just fucking creepy.

        1. Just so. We're the shop-girl the wastrel son takes into his bed by default when daddy cuts off the trust fund after one too many debs gets date-raped. As soon as the trust-fund tap is turned back on we're booted out the door... and then the other cut-off wastrel comes around (because in this half-assed analogy daddy's only got the one trust-fund.)

  5. So "heavy on small-government stuff" means less regulation of business, leading to poison in drinking water and food, faulty products and unlimited mining and drilling. And "light on social-issue meddling" means no abortions and no "special" rights for certain Americans...right?

    1. Yeah, that's exactly righ . . . wait, no, you're a moron.

  6. Is this the original statement, or the compromised second draft?

  7. I meant it more in the sense that "hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." What's significant is that this is the line they've chosen . . . not that they believe it. They'll say what it takes to get power, of course, but it's telling that this is what they think it takes to get power, even within the right.

    1. In that case I agree with you.

    2. Instead of pissily quoting Rochefoucauld, Glenn, you should consider aping what Pee Wee Herman said after he launched over the handlebars of his bike and landed at the feet of the children he was trying to impress: "I meant to do THAT."

  8. I agree with Fluffy that none of these tools should be taken the least bit seriously.

    I agree with Glenn that it is interesting that they feel the need to get some libertarian cred to get back into power.

  9. An assemblage of career political hacks lock themselves in a smoky room and "brainstorm" about how to get out in front of the tea party mob.

    Pardon me if I assume the worst.

  10. I have to say, I'm pretty stunned at Glenn Reynolds' embrace of Harvey as Life Partner. I was thinking he was more of the Giant Anthropomorphic Cat type.

  11. Can we go back to the Sharon Statement?

  12. Dear friends,

    I think that with the Mount Vernon statement out and on-line as of 17 February, now is the time to open a real discussion regarding the principles of the Founders, among conservatives, and among Americans in general. I was very interested in reading the text of the document, and in seeing who the principle signers of the statement were. You can read the statement below, and then I follow each section with a few comments, because I agreed with some of their statements of the founding principles of the United States, but while you are reading, if you are familiar with the lives of the founders, the debates in the Federalist Papers and in the early Congress, and with regards to the writing of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,reflect carefully on everything that the statement says.

    We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding. Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.

    Up to here we have some wishful thinking. The Founders created excellent founding documents, the best in history I would say. Whether they have been enduring or not is answered by the facts of our present situation. We now have a system with nearly unlimited government, the system of checks and balances were debilitated throughout the 20th century. Both parties contributed to this, with some of the most spectacular and flagrant attempts to destroy the 'framework of limited government' occurring with the presidency of FDR, when he attempted to pack the Supreme Court, and during the 'Imperial Presidency' of Richard M. Nixon. No President has truly handed back many of the powers that were won by the power-grabs of his predecessors. George W. Bush and Obama are simply the culmination of more than a hundred years of government expansion. The Founders did indeed seek to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government. Since then, the edifice has come crashing down, as Edmund Burke might say.

    These principles define us as a country and inspire us as a people. They are responsible for a prosperous, just nation unlike any other in the world. They are our highest achievements, serving not only as powerful beacons to all who strive for freedom and seek self-government, but as warnings to tyrants and despots everywhere.

    Here again we cross the line from defining ideals, to becoming idealistic. We all know that the journey down van Hayek's 'Road to Serfdom' is well underway, and conservatives especially should be aware of this fact. In the second sentence the statement slides into nationalism. We are prosperous, there is no doubt about that, some would even say decadent. However, profligate spending at every level has put our prosperity in serious danger, and has established an unsustainable, structurally unsound economy. Our judicial system is rife with flaws, the basic individual liberties defined in the Bill of Rights are scarcely holding on. In the name of the war against terrorism, many so-called 'conservatives' have justified all sorts of reductions in the right to due process, the right to a trial by jury, the right against unreasonable search and seizure. Yes, who is to interpret what is reasonable those on the other side will say? Fewer and fewer, as the government finds it in its interest to systematically expand its justification for every act it commits. And insofar as being warnings for tyrants and despots, how much more power will we concentrate in the Executive branch before it becomes nothing more than a 4-year license to decree by divine will? Rather, our current system, in my point of view, is a model for tyrants and despots who want to justify their rule by terms in office. Who wants to be ruler for life anyway nowadays?

    Each one of these founding ideas is presently under sustained attack. In recent decades, America's principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The selfevident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.

    The fact that the Founder's ideas are under attack is irrefutable. The problem I see is that the statement refuses to recognize that there are those within the conservative ranks who are doing exactly this. Whether the justification be war against foreign powers and sustained occupation on foreign soils, the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, the tripartite war party in the conservative wing has expanded government in equal proportion as has the 'social welfare state' on the socialist side of the aisle. On the other hand, so-called social conservatives have justified limiting the individual rights of gays, have tried to expand the role of religion (going beyond the Founder's call for religious liberty) in public schools and have joined ranks in empowering the police state due to the fear stoked among them regarding the dangers of drugs, gangs and other supposed 'external' threats to society. Both the Republicans and the Democrats have hooked on to and adored big government over the past several decades. It has given them the power to turn to their constituents and ask them, 'what would you do without us?'.

    Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead ? forward or backward, up or down? Isn't this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?

    America changed long, long ago, with respect to its views on the Founding principles. To recover the Founder's ideal requires a refounding of the Republic, casting out years of precedents, and reforging the expectation of the people regarding what government should and should not do.

    The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

    We need a refounding.

    The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature's God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man's self-interest but also his capacity for virtue.

    I found it interesting the use of the term, 'nature's God'. Jefferson and many of the founders were dualists. They did not believe in the Christian God, but did believe in religious freedom. They were also witness to the great dangers inherent in religious persecution. In all truth, the Founders were not conservatives, they were liberals, classical liberals. They believed in the ideals of the Enlightenment. They made common cause frequently with such atheists as the eloquent Thomas Paine. There can be no doubt that the hedonistic and brilliant Benjamin Franklin was anything but conservative, either in his personal or public life. These leaders put ideas ahead of all, they were, simply put, revolutionaries. Edmund Burke, although he is a classical conservative in every sense of the word, admired the American Revolutionaries and defended their cause. He saw the Constitution as a sound and prudent document. While all this is true, we have to recognize that the Founder's ideals are not and were not conservative per se. A realization of the Founder's ideals today would be just as, if not more, revolutionary than in the past. With the expansion of government over the past hundred plus years, who can really argue that a new Declaration of Independence would even be possible by a new republic that wanted to break away from a despot in a distant land? How could groups of scraggly militiamen possibly defeat the massive, well-paid and sophisticated armies of modernity? Where is there even an insurgent group with any power left in the world? Let us hope that such a Revolution will be possible without force of arms, but it is a fact that the Founders had to take up arms to secure their rights. Aside from being revolutionaries, they were warriors for a just cause.

    The conservatism of the Constitution limits government's powers but ensures that government performs its proper job effectively. It refines popular will through the filter of representation. It provides checks and balances through the several branches of government and a federal republic.

    What is government's job? Perhaps this is where the statement needs to be clearer... is it government's job to continue to construct a nuclear arsenal which can already destroy the world several times over? Is it government's job to defend Israel, Taiwan and South Korea? Is it government's job to provide social security and medicare? Is it government's job to police the individual use of illegal drugs such as marihuana or cocaine? or legal drugs such as methadone or valium? Is it government's job to create an FCC and divvy up the airwaves, and then prosecute people for saying fuck on-air? Is it government's job to rescue banks? I pick these topics since conservatives typically fall on the 'big government' side of the answers. However, if you are going to restate the Founder's principles, the answers are clearly no..no..no..no..no and ..no. Thomas Hobbes gave a basic answer as to what government should do, basically provide police protection, of ourselves from other members of society (ie., not police our actions as they pertain to our own actions). The issue is, society would appear to accept and invite big government to provide 'protection', from others, but also from themselves, even casting their longing eyes towards government to protect it from....OBESITY!

    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.

    Ok, first of all I would need to have explained to me what the 'natural fusion' is that is provided by American principles. I am utterly lost on this idea. If it means that naturally all conservatives, big and small government alike, suddenly fuse together in favor of the Founding principles, I would venture to say that that fusion would suddenly dissolve the first vote there is held to cut the US military budget, with the so-called 'national security conservatives', or when there is a vote to not teach creationism in the schools, since it has no basis in science, despite the Mount Vernon statement's observation, which I agree with, that 'unlimited' government is a threat to moral self-government. What I think is interesting about the mention of 'moral self-government' is that it implies that we should make our own decisions, I wonder if some of the people at Family Research Council and Christian Coalition who signed understand what self-government implies in terms of their legislation? I imagine that they thought when they used the word 'moral', it implied that everyone was going to use the morals embraced by their religions and organizations to self-govern though. If they weren't, I would imagine that that would be ample justification to expand government to remove this capacity from the immoral.

    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 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.

    I think it would be interesting, were some of the signers to agree to it (although not all would I am certain), to have candidates sign an oath to vote no on any proposal to expand government from its current state, or to extend the 'unconstitutional state of things'. Even more clearly, you could also propose that all candidates refuse to raise the debt ceiling, or vote for an unbalanced budget. These are practical measures. Leaving a lot of unclear mumbo-jumbo about opposing tyranny everywhere (did the Founders go off on some war against the Russian tsar that I was not told about back in 1790?) or informing a 'firm defense of family, neighborhood, etc' whatever that means (should Ben Franklin have been prohibited from hiring the services of prostitutes?), leaves me with no actionable precepts to apply to legislation. Everything is still left open to interpretation, with no clear commitments on the table.

    If we are to succeed in the critical political and policy battles ahead, we must be certain of our purpose.

    We must begin by retaking and resolutely defending the high ground of America's founding principles.

    Or, rather, the supposed high ground which has yet to be staked out, but which the Mount Vernon statement makes an unconvincing argument that it has claimed.

  13. Why did they name the statement after a slave-labour camp?

  14. My dog believes in limited government so I signed his name on the document. Now, that's conservativism!

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