Mount Vernon Statement: the contradiction at the heart of this conservative fusion
Do conservatives really think that two of history’s most radical documents – the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – were conservative?
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The inherent tensions of conservatism are more glaring today than in 1960. Christian Right domestic policies and neoconservative foreign policy have little to do with small, unobtrusive government. The former’s mission is to use the government to curtail individual cultural and lifestyle choices. And an aggressive belief in the ability of the federal government to create gigantic institutions abroad – indeed, new governments – founds the latter.Skip to next paragraph
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The hard-core cold warriors involved with the Sharon Statement, with their opposition to illiberal totalitarianism, were more obvious bedfellows for a libertarian conservativism than neoconservatives. And as to the libertarians, why should they be enmeshed with a conservative cause that sees Christian morality as the basis for economic development, when China and Singapore show that a free market can thrive in countries hostile to religion?
One reasonable response to this is that ideology is a process, these groups do identify with one another in some sense, and this presents a step in the direction of discovering potentially shared values. Fair enough. Burkean conservativism, however, and its commitment to organic social growth, rather than limited government based on the rule of law, might present more fertile common ground.
This statement, in the end, is really about Presidents Bush and Obama. Its lamentations of the values of “recent decades” includes Mr. Bush’s eight momentous years and reveals the right’s now desperate attempt to find a way around that history, and return to Reagan.
As for Mr. Obama, the statement says, “Isn’t this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception? The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles.”
Obama is at an ideological breaking point. Whether his promised reforms represented new American values, as opposed to merely new American policies, was always the lingering question.
He attempted to sidestep the philosophy debate under the cover of “pragmatism.” But that has failed politically.
Even if it’s mildly incoherent and historically inaccurate, the right has thrown down the ideological gauntlet. It is time Obama and the left clarify their own values.