Right Deems Mount Vernon Statement an Embarrassment

Period garb, media gimmicks, and a middling Constitutionalism

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On Wednesday, a few dozen Republican officials and conservatives media figures gathered near George Washington's former estate outside Washington, D.C., to sign the one-page "Mount Vernon Statement." The document attempts to rally Republicans around strict Constitutionalism. The event, clearly designed to attract media attention, featured speeches and an actor dressed as George Washington. The actor's presence is also an appeal to Tea Party activists, who espouse Constitutionalism and sometimes take to wearing period garb at events.

But many conservatives are rejecting the document. With the exception of National Review and RedState, whose editors personally signed the statement, few conservative commentators have come out in full-throated support. From national security hawks to libertarians to Tea Partiers, many are raising criticisms of the Mount Vernon Statement:

  • Purity Test  Republican Senator Jim DeMint tweets, "If our leaders cannot agree to the Mount Vernon Statement, they are part of the problem and should be replaced."
  • 'Stuck In The Sixties,' Ignores Bush Transgressions  Longtime conservative leader David Franke laments the refusal to acknowledge Bush-era failures. "[T]here's a reason why the signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are silent today about the decapitation of the Constitution in the Bush/Cheney era - almost 100 percent of them supported Bush and Cheney with their votes in 2000, 2004, and (by proxy McCain) 2008."
  • Can Constitutionalists Be Tough on Terror?  Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin worries that the statement's backers are weak on national security. "Because in the name of 'constitutional conservatism,' [Mount Vernon Statement backers] Keene and Norquist support the Obama/Democrat majority approach of civilian trials for terrorists. And in the name of 'constitutional conservatism,' Norquist supports de facto open borders and dangerous pandering to Muslim grievance-mongers."
  • Embarrassing GOP Establishment  Prominent conservative activist Richard Viguerie laments, "This is embarrassing. 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. This is almost as if the movements leaders were taken over by Tom DeLay and John Boehner."
  • Failed Appeal to Libertarianism  Reason's Jesse Walker scoffs at claims that the statement's language supports "a libertarian shift on the right." He writes, "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."
  • Bereft of Real Ideas  Conservative blogger Allahpundit shakes his head. "[T]he principles here are so broad as to be almost meaningless. Let's say Paul Ryan proposes a small tax increase as part of a larger plan to pay down the national debt. Does that violate the principles of limited government and market solutions, or is it actually a step towards the greater conservative good of solvency and fiscal responsibility?" He proposes similar quandaries on waterboarding and privacy.
  • 'No Attempt' to Unify Splintered GOP  Conservative blogger Mark Thompson is aghast. "There are no details, no attempt to resolve the conflicting interests of social conservatives, economic conservatives, hawks, and libertarians. Just a blanket statement that somehow these groups all have the exact same interests, and all agree with a very generalized vision of the Constitution."
The Mount Vernon Statement was written to demonstrate the unity of various conservative factions. But the great question overhanging the conservative movement is not its unity, but its relevance. Yes, you can pile the major conservative groups into a conference room and find forms of words to which they will all nod. [...] But will those words address any of the important problems of the country? Will they galvanize anybody other than self-identified conservatives? For that matter, will they offer even conservatives any kind of legible road map forward? The Mount Vernon statement only confirms these doubts about conservatism's relevance.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.