Here are two constitutional principles I’d like to have seen in the Mount Vernon Statement that conservative leaders released Wednesday and that I’d like the activists gathering for the weekend’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference to consider.
First, wars must be declared, as laid out in Article, Section 8 of the Constitution.
Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were explicitly wrong in not doing so, and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were wrong in not demanding declarations for the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan It would have required naming the enemy - which would have helped in the long run.
Second, treaties should be publicly revealed regarding all their contents, and should go into effect only after receiving the advice and consent of two-thirds of the senators present and voting, as specified in Article II, Section 2.
That applies to our “special relationships” with the United Kingdom; Israel, with which we have no security treaty; Iraq, for which the Status of Forces agreement was never revealed to Congress, much less voted on; Mexico and so on. Emphasize the Sunshine Principle - the people have a right to know. What are our secret commitments to these allies with whom we have no treaties, save NATO (regarding the U.K.)?
In Indiana, there is now a sense among conservatives that the “old” GOP is trying to stay in power (think of the Dan Coats candidacy) instead of acceding to a new generation, one that is more truly conservative and, frankly, anti-establishment, and that is free of the burdens of George W. Bush (who admittedly was not a conservative, but a “reformer” and a “uniter”).
Simply put, I wish the that when conservative leaders issue statements of principles, they not waffle in order to please those who are still Bush supporters - yes, many are very rich (thanks to the government) and yes, many are insiders.
This Mount Vernon manifesto released Wednesday is bad news for conservatives. You’ve got this group of old-timers calling themselves “constitutional conservatives” while they’re turning the Constitution upside down on foreign policy.
Not only that, there’s a new big-money Political Action Committee forming with another group of heavyweights - Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie from the Bush White House and Haley Barbour and Jeb Bush. They’ll rake in millions, no doubt, but for what?
Their biggest donor, a billionaire named Kenneth Langone who founded Home Depot, said that he had been assured the PAC wouldn’t go near the social issues. For these guys, conservatism means lower taxes and more wars, period. Do they really expect that to resuscitate the conservative cadaver?
I suggest conservatives’ statements cannot embrace or repeat Mr. Bush’s defiance of conservative principle (imagine, going to the evil United Nations for our moral authority to invade Iraq).
No name-calling is necessary, but the good, true and abiding principles Mr. Bush ignored must be made crystal clear if our movement is to recover. He did us great harm by allowing the public perception that his actions and policies were “conservative.”
You’ll have a short-term political problem: While the percentage of the electorate identifying themselves as Republicans has shrunk dramatically, a majority of that minority still supports and defends Mr. Bush’s egregious excesses. Conservatives cannot.
In more indelicate languages, the conservative writer and teacher M. Stanton Evans once said that conservatives know that Washington is a sewer. The problem is, too many of us wind up treating it like a hot tub.
May I suggest a corollary: The only way to pull the plug on the hot tub is from the outside. The rest of the country perceives the only principles in Washington to be money, power and staying out of jail.
• Christopher Manion is the former staff director of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the Committee on Foreign Relations and co-founder of the American Foreign Policy Council.