A major effort by about 80 right-wing thinkers and leaders of conservative organizations to generate a common statement of principles appears to be making some headway in unifying the normally fractious right.
With a few prominent exceptions, the proposed “Mount Vernon Statement” is generating positive reviews among conservatives ahead of its planned Wednesday release. Framers of the statement hope to renew a sense of common purpose not seen since the beginning of the Reagan era 30 years ago.
The statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, was drafted by many big names in conservatism to stop what they see as President Obama’s headlong drive to expand the scope of government.
The aim is to unite advocates of limited government, social and religious conservatives, and champions of activist foreign and domestic policies. Republican Party leaders are especially eager to heal internal rifts ahead of midterm elections in November, when the party hopes to score major gains.
The statement will be released a day before the opening of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) — the annual three-day national summit for rank-and-file conservatives — at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.
“I think it is appropriate, from time to time, to recommit ourselves to our conservative principles,” said Jim Bopp Jr., a Republican National Committee member from Indiana. Mr. Bopp was not involved in drafting the document.
“This is particularly important now, since we are facing the most concerted and comprehensive attack on the nature of our society and government in an effort to transform it based on a socialist model,” said Mr. Bopp, who founded the first-of-its-kind Republican National Conservative Caucus within the RNC.
The statement asserts that each one of the nation’s “founding ideas is presently under sustained attack” and that the nation’s “principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics.”
The manifesto presents as a framework for action what it calls “a constitutional conservatism” to unite “all conservatives through the fusion provided by American principles.”
This constitutional platform is meant to remind “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 Americas safety and leadership role in the world.”
The statement applies the principles of limited government “based on the rule of law” as the yardstick for judging political disputes.
“It honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life … encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.”
Treading carefully in an area where neoconservatives and traditionalists differ, it says the new constitutional framework “supports Americas national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.”
The statement says it “informs conservatisms firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith” — a nod to social and religious conservatives, who have swollen the ranks and given political power to the movement.
It is the first major statement of the American rights goals and principles since 1960, when some fresh-faced conservative intellectuals gathered at the Sharon, Conn., home of William F. Buckley Jr. to pen a manifesto that heralded the modern conservative movements arrival. That effort provided the seed that led to the rights twin peaks of political success: the Barry Goldwater movements overthrow of the liberal Republican establishment in the early 1960s and Ronald Reagans political triumphs of the 1980s.
The 1960 statement adopted by the Young Americans for Freedom and the manifesto to be released Wednesday both look back in veneration to the same document.
“The Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power,” the Sharon Statement said.
Solomon Yue, like Mr. Bopp a co-founder of the RNC conservative caucus, said the new statement has the potential to unite Republicans and “tea party” independents around the cause of defending the Constitution from liberal overreaching.
“This statement should encourage todays tea party as it transforms from a populist protest into a constitutional conservatism movement for freedom,” said Mr. Yue, an RNC member from Oregon.
Mr. Yue, who came to the United States after fleeing communist China, said the statement “gives grass-roots America justification to hold elected officeholders accountable and to demand restoring the consent of the governed. It also lays a foundation for embracing the full spectrum of conservatism by defending founding principles in their entirety in order to keep this republic.”
Not all prominent conservatives are on board.
“This is embarrassing,” activist and longtime direct-mail advertiser Richard Viguerie told The Washington Times. “If the people in the leadership of the conservative movement are going to put out pablum like this, the tea party people are going to make them seem irrelevant. And the tea party people are going to march to the forefront.”
In a dig at current and former Republican congressional leaders whom many blame for betraying conservative principles of limited government and reduced spending, Mr. Viguerie added, “This is almost as if the movements leaders were taken over by Tom DeLay and John Boehner.”
But Tom Pauken, a Reagan administration official who in recent years has sharply criticized the direction of the right, said, “America can find its way back if we return to our founding principles and apply them to the problems facing us today.”
“The Mount Vernon Statement is a positive step in the right direction,” Mr. Pauken, a former Texas Republican Party chairman, told The Times after being shown a copy of the statement.
Among the conservative leaders involved in the Mount Vernon Statement were Edwin Meese III; Becky Norton Dunlop, a Heritage Foundation vice president and Reagan administration official; American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene, who also heads CPAC; Reagan administration Labor Department official Patrick Pizzella; Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner; Family Research Council President Tony Perkins; Media Research Center President Brent Bozell; and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist.