- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The United States has produced over the course of its history some of the Western world’s very best examples of written political thought. Chief among these are the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, which presented a magnificent exposition of how our system of government was intended to work and what it could accomplish for the citizenry if followed. Thomas Jefferson, no slouch himself when it came to political draftsmanship, called this collection of 85 essays “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.”

Similarly, when it comes to the spoken word, students of government, politics or history have no shortage of speeches delivered by American presidents and other leaders to cite as outstanding illustrations of political thought. From Patrick Henry to Ronald Reagan, Americans have many reasons to be proud in reflecting on the eloquence of ideas spoken by those our country has produced.

One document not likely to be counted among our treasured examples of political excellence in the years and decades ahead is the so-called Mount Vernon Statement, issued Feb. 17 by a number of conservative leaders. Not that there’s anything wrong with what’s in the statement; it pushes all the right buttons, with references to “1776,” “ideas,” “principles,” “the Constitution,” “limited government” and even “checks and balances.”

The document suffers not so much from the words it uses as from the context and time in which it was issued.

An earlier conservative manifesto, the Sharon Statement, was issued in 1960, on the eve of the modern conservative movement. That document was drafted back in the days — long, long ago and far, far away — when the conservative movement had not yet been corrupted by the siren song of power. The movement then presented a clear and convincing case for a new political order, challenging the nascent nanny-state mentality that eventually would rise to dominate American government at all levels. The Sharon Statement sparked fervor by identifying the enemy with the clarity and energy that spring from the eyes of an adolescent poised to take on the world, which it did.

Sadly, the conservative “movement,” such as it is half a century after the Sharon Statement, now is forced by the reality of the former administration of Republican and self-proclaimed “conservative” George W. Bush to operate from the perspective of Pogo, who in 1970 declared, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

This most recent effort to rekindle the glory of the conservative movement best personified by Reagan cannot escape the fact that its drafting was made necessary because of a decade in which most political conservatives, hitching their wagon to the Republican Party, clearly forsook the very principles of limited government the Sharon Statement described. A Republican president who in just a few short years took the nation from a balanced budget to multihundred billions of dollars of debt and who proclaimed through his actions that as commander in chief he could ignore laws at his pleasure hardly provides a platform from which to launch a credible conservative movement.

The vague and generally worded three-page Mount Vernon Statement is hardly even a start. It employs confusing phrases such as “the natural fusion provided by American principles.” In describing the proper role of government as “energetic but responsible,” it raises more questions than answers. In short, it fails to provide the clarity a movement-inducing document must have in order to succeed in its goal of rallying the troops for the long haul.

Rather than devoting resources right now trying to convince a justifiably skeptical public that conservatives didn’t really mean it when supporting Mr. Bush for the past decade, perhaps what these leaders ought to do is dust off and reaffirm the Sharon Statement, spend a couple of years actually taking concrete steps to implement conservative policies and then issue a new movement statement.

Frankly, it would have a great deal more credibility than the one signed last week.

Bob Barr is a former U.S. House member from Georgia who left the Republican party to join the Libertarian Party.

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