From conservatives, a bounty of political manifestos

Everybody from tea partiers to Republican lawmakers to GOP chief Michael Steele is listing their political priorities and goals. Republicans are hoping to repeat Newt Gingrich's 1994 success in taking over the House with his 'Contract With America.'

Bob Child/AP/File
Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich led the Republican takeover of the House in 1994 with his Contract With America. He's talking about crafting a new contract whose themes would include jobs, a balanced budget, and energy.

In conservative circles, manifestos are all the rage.

On Wednesday, it was the Mount Vernon Statement, an affirmation of “constitutional conservatism,” as the organizers styled it, focused on limited government and individual liberty. Signers included many familiar names from old-time conservative circles – Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese, direct mail guru Richard Viguerie, antitax activist Grover Norquist, to name a few.

Tea party activists are working up their own manifesto, to be called the Contract From America – a play on former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, from the breakthrough midterms of 1994.

On Thursday, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the group Tea Party Patriots will unveil its website, where activists can select 10 out of 21 priorities to go into the Contract From America.

Options include a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget, a repeal of all tax hikes scheduled to begin in 2011, and no regulation or tax on the Internet.

Newt Gingrich is back with a new 'contract'

Mr. Gingrich is talking about crafting a Contract With America II, and has laid out themes, starting with jobs, balanced budget, and energy. Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, one of the party’s rising stars, has put out a “Roadmap for America’s Future.” Rep. John Boehner (R) of Ohio, the House minority leader, says he’s drafting a Republican campaign platform.

And Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, says Senate Republicans will lay out a 10-point election year agenda this spring – the 10 things the Republican Party would seek to enact within 60 days upon retaking control of Congress.

Then, of course, there’s the manifesto (of sorts) by Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who released a book last month called “Right Now: A 12-Step Program for Defeating the Obama Agenda.”

“Republicans see themselves as reliving 1993-‘94,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “They’re the out-party, [with] big Democratic majorities that have taken the country in a policy direction that makes people nervous. They feel they’re about to mount a huge comeback.”

In fact, the 1994 Contract With America was released just six weeks before the midterm elections, and most voters had never heard of it.

“But in Republican lore, it bulks very large,” says Mr. Jillson. “It probably did define and hold together the Republican minority as it launched into that campaign, and they felt empowered by it, even though the voters were going about their lives and never even noticed.”

Tea partiers like the cacophony of voices

In today’s cacophony of conservative and Republican activism, it may be difficult to settle on one common blueprint to present to the public. But for tea partiers, who relish the lack of central authority over their movement, that’s exactly how it should be.

On Tuesday, some 50 tea party leaders from around the country met with Chairman Steele in Washington to discuss how party and conservative grass-roots activists, many of them vociferously not Republicans, can find common cause in the fall elections. They agreed to meet again.

On Capitol Hill, Republican Study Committee chairman Tom Price (R) of Georgia applauded the Mount Vernon Statement, saying it “reminds us that the change we really need is a renewed empowerment of self-governance and a turn away from unbridled government expansion.”

The liberal People for the American Way put out its own reaction, calling the Mount Vernon Statement “the same old talking points.

“Anyone who was expecting a new direction for the conservative movement will be disappointed,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way. “The Mount Vernon Statement appears to be yet another recitation of the same tired dogma we’ve seen for decades.”

The Mount Vernon Statement is named for George Washington’s home in Virginia. The drafters gathered nearby on Wednesday for the signing. It is meant to be an updated version of the 1960 Sharon Statement, a manifesto by the group Young Americans for Freedom, which held its inaugural meeting at conservative godfather William F. Buckley Jr.’s estate in Sharon, Conn.


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