Note: A Slightly shorter version of this appeared as my weekend op-ed.
Mt. Vernon was livelier in the 18th century
On Wednesday, Feb. 17, a group of prominent conservatives unveiled The Mt. Vernon Statement, a ringing call to return to the founding principles that made America great and a beacon of liberty to the world.
Reading it over carefully, I find nothing to disagree with.
That’s not a compliment.
I can’t disagree with any of it because it is a collection of innocuous platitudes Karl Marx would have a problem finding anything to disagree with.
The statement opens, “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.”
Ask any leftist if he favors “economic opportunity,” or “the rule of law.” Do you think he’s going to say, “No way!”?
Ask right and left-wingers how they define those terms if you want to know what they disagree about
A few “progressives,” such as the late historian Howard Zinn, would tell you “the ideals of the American Founding,” were all about slavery, genocide, and oppression of working people. But they are pretty marginal. Most pay lip-service to the Founders and the Constitution, whatever their private opinions.
“It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.”
I got almost the same words from a socialist I once interviewed!
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” and on in this vein for 546 words.
OK, this I understand because I’m a politics geek. It’s an appeal for a united front among a variety of political sects that sail under the flag of “conservative.” But it’s utterly opaque to non-geeks and says nothing to ordinary people worried about economic decline and the intrusion of “soft tyranny” into our lives.
There’s a saying in this biz, “If you’re writing for everybody, you’re writing for nobody.”
This thing was put together by committee, and reads like it.
The Mt. Vernon Statement is advertised as an updating of The Sharon Statement of 1960, (379 words) which heralded the beginning of the modern conservative movement. It was drafted by M. Stanton Evans, then 26 years old when he wrote:
“We, as young conservatives, believe:
That foremost among the transcendent values is the individual’s use of his God-given free will, whence derives his right to be free from the restrictions of arbitrary force;
That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;
That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;
That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty…”
Agree or disagree, this is a succinct, direct, and clear statement of principles.
Now read this, from Steve Kangas’ website “Liberalism Resurgent.”
“Liberals therefore advocate a moderated meritocracy: those with the most merit continue to earn the most money or power, but a percentage of it is redistributed back to the middle and lower classes. This is accomplished by progressive taxes, anti-poverty spending, and other forms of regulation.”
Again, agree or disagree, he’s writing clearly and directly about concrete proposals. Point being, reading these guys you know they disagree, how they disagree, and can make your own decisions accordingly.
Liberals tend to believe the newer the ideas, the better they are.
Conservatives believe in the wisdom of tradition. The Mt. Vernon Statement helps prove their case, they did better 50 years ago.
Note: For a really bad example of political writing, check out The Port Huron Statement, written by Tom Hayden (a.k.a. ex-Mr. Jane Fonda) at the founding of the Students for a Democratic Society in 1962. At 25,859 words it’s great bed-time reading for insomniacs, but you won’t wake up any smarter.
I’ve got to say though, the one thing I’ll always be grateful to the Mt. Vernon Statement for, is drawing my attention to The Sharon Statement. I’d somehow managed to miss reading that one, and it’s a gem of clear, succinct writing.