ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Tucked away in the snowy grounds of what was once part of George Washington's River Farm, more than 80 conservative leaders spent the day talking about the ideas that animate their movement. By late afternoon, they emerged having signed a manifesto they dubbed the Mount Vernon Statement, a set of principles intended to unite conservatives of all stripes.
The signing ceremony was kicked off by former Attorney General Edwin Meese, now chairman of the Conservative Action Project. "If he were here," Meese told the assembled conservatives and reporters, "Ronald Reagan would be among first to sign the Mount Vernon statement." The document places fidelity to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution at the center of conservatism, and Meese reminded the audience that Reagan cited the Founding Fathers "more than his nine predecessors combined."
But before putting pen to paper, the Mount Vernon organizers fittingly paid tribute to the conservatives who had gone before them. Sections were read from the Credenda of National Review that appeared in the magazine's first issue back in 1955. "Only William F. Buckley Jr. would say 'Credenda' instead of 'principles'" quipped Colin Hanna of the group Let Freedom Ring. "William F. Buckley used Latin as a conversational language!"
There were also readings from another Buckley-influenced conservative manifesto drafted by M. Stanton Evans for Young Americans for Freedom in 1960, the Sharon Statement. Both documents similarly invoked the Constitution and the country's founding principles.
According to the National Review founding opening statement, "The growth of government -- the dominant social feature of this century -- must be fought relentlessly. In this great social conflict of the era, we are, without reservations, on the libertarian side."
The Sharon Statement took a similar anti-statist line, maintaining that "the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government fo fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power." Accordingly, "the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government."
The main theme of the Mount Vernon Statement is that constitutional conservatism is the unifying force behind the American right. Although widely ridiculed by liberal journalists covering the event -- "the latest in Founding Father fetishism" was the American Prospect's alliterative reaction -- that is actually the form of conservatism that was most thoroughly sidelined during the just-concluded era of big government Republicanism.
Yet a revivified liberalism under President Obama and a Democratic-controlled Congress has a way of focusing the mind on what's important. Radio talk show host Mark Levin, the event's surprise guest appearing on a projection screen, made a joking reference to the one-year anniversary of the massive stimulus package. "We're saving or creating a nation, here," he cracked to media row.
Edwin Feulner of the Heritage Foundation read the entire Mount Vernon Statement aloud before inviting the crowd to sign the document as a George Washington impersonator stood guard. "We must print out the statement's text on our journals, our magazines and our blog posts," said Fuelner. "We must distribute the video of today's ceremony. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a country to save!"
Or at least a Constitution, if we can keep it.
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