It’s been a wild ride for conservatives this week. The annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. took place. In addition, a combination of conservative activists, pundits and some veteran GOP Politicians met on 17 February at Mount Vernon to sign what has been called “The Mount Vernon Statement” (Link Here). It was a dedicated effort to recommit Conservatives and GOP activists to the political philosophy of going back to original intent of the founding fathers as described in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. It is supposed to serve as a guide for conservative and GOP renewal in American Politics.
First, the Mount Vernon Statement (MVS). I can think of no real Republican who can (or would) argue with the intentions of even the wording of the MVS. We have, over the 20th century and into the 21st, have stretched and molded our laws and bureaucracy to adjust and react to events, technical innovations and threats that our founding fathers could never have imagined. Needless to say, the Federal Government has injected itself into the average American’s life to a degree that even FDR would not have envisioned. Just look at the labeling on the food you eat, the federal requirements imposed on our exploration and use of energy and most invasive of all, the massive intrusion of the Federal tax system that confiscates wealth from honest, hard working people and empowers a massive bureaucracy that can, without any restraint, ruin or destroy an individual’s or family’s life. This capricious and often cruel bureaucracy is empowered by a Byzantium tax code that, apparently, cannot even be understood by our top tax collector, the Secretary of the Treasury. And looming over all of this is a massive debt that BOTH our major political parties have enabled for decades. (If there is one lesson to take from the debt crisis it is this: The government is incapable of running our health or our retirement systems.)
The MVS is meant to signal to all America that we need to pull back the intrusion of the Federal government from productive Americans lives. And yet, I find this statement unfulfilling. How many times have we heard this over the past 50 years? From Buckley, to Goldwater, on to Reagan and even Bill Clinton who famously declared the “Era of Big Government is over”, this “back to basics” has been a recurring theme. And yet, we find ourselves in 2010 staring at yawning abyss of a financial Armageddon and a President who is ready to push our country into said abyss by cramming a hugely unpopular health program down our collective throats.
The MVS stated we need to get back to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in order to restore America. No argument here, but I hasten to point out, both of our founding Documents, while having immortal words of inspiration in their preambles, were, at their core, functional documents that had meat to their bones. Read the Declaration of Independence and you will see a long list of grievances and specific issues that our founding fathers used to justify their rebellion against, what was then, the world’s premier power. They got down to brass tacks and set out, issue by issue, the actions of the British Government that prompted the most profound political experiment in human history, the American Revolution.
As for the Constitution, remember it was born out of the failure of the Articles of Confederation to make a workable nation. Implicit in the adoption of the Constitution was the need for a more centralized government to address specific deficiencies in the Articles of Confederation and to promote more efficient commerce. The founders, however, were (for the most part) acutely aware that the need to strictly define and limit those powers. And even then, it took adoption the Bill of Rights, that limited the Federal Government even more, to ensure passage of the Constitution. So while we remember the Preamble ” We The People”, the real genius of our Founding Fathers was that they gave us a document that laid out, in specific detail, the “Nuts and Bolts” of creating a working Federal government. The Constitution is, above all, a practical document with real world solutions to the issues of how to run a nation.
The MVS is a mere affirmation of our Founding Fathers ideals. Nice words but I hesitate to say inspiring. In addition, both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were initiated and passed by men who had a personal and financial stake in the country. These men were productive men who were producing wealth and industry. They were, for the most part, citizens first and politicians part-time and all had risked their lives when breaking from Britain (just ask Nathan Hale).
The MVS was written, for the most part, by the Professional Political Pundits of the Conservative World. They, to a great extent, represent the mirror image of the left political elite: Highly educated, Ivy League or privileged individuals and for the most part totally insulated from the real common man. I would be willing to bet not one (or just a few) of those who formally signed the document (complete with a character actor dressed as Washington handing out the pen) have ever been to a Monster Truck Rally, stood a mid-watch or really put his life on the line, whether in the mines of West Virginia or the sands of the Middle East. In other words, just the type of people that have been, more or less, running this country since FDR.
In summary, what is lacking in the MVS is a plan or even goals. We need energy independence, so where is the commitment to tap ALL of America’s vast hydrocarbon resources? Where is the true commitment to Nuclear power? One that reduces time of approval to construction of new plants; to reopen Yucca Mountain and to the building a truly modern electrical grid? Where is the plan to reform our health system; to reform tort law; support the education of more Doctors than Lawyers in our society? How do we reform Social Security and Medicare? (You cannot reform Healthcare without addressing these two core entitlement programs). How do we fix our failing school systems, both K-12 thru to University?
These are just a few of the issues that confront us. While one can data mine on the Internet and find Conservative/ GOP ideas with regards to many of these issues and more, the GOP/conservative movement has yet to create a coherent and practical plan for the average American to “Hitch his Wagon To”.
To complicate the matter, many of our GOP leaders are the same faces we have seen for the past twenty years. Does one really expect Americans to suddenly think these same old politicians now have the solutions to our nations woes? Even if these entrenched incumbents come up with plans that the average American can believe in, have they developed the means to get that message out, unencumbered by a hostile, left-wing press that will never really be an impartial player in this battle?
Which brings me to CPAC. Here is a link to their site. It is the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the United States. It is an opportunity for conservatives to network, and for a few select individuals to stand on the Dias and speak. Some inspire and others make fools of themselves. It’s impact has grown with advent of Fox News and the Internet. Any GOP figure who is actively thinking of running for President in 2012 was there and spoke. I am sure many new contacts were made between party activists and many GOP candidates for Congress got invaluable face time with critical media pundits and bloggers.
Which makes it all the more confusing and disappointing that when CPAC held their annual straw poll for who they want for President, Ron Paul won. I repeat, Ron Paul won. While Ron Paul has been for years, like Cassandra, yelling the warnings of the economic train wreck that we are now facing, he also has ideas on American foreign policy, that, for lack of a better word, are loony.
When I hear him speak what America’s foreign policy should be like, I hear a voice eerily similar to Charles Lindbergh and the America First Movement that took root in the years just prior to WWII (MP3’s available upon request). It is a voice of naivety, a voice that fails to recognize the fact that there are truly evil men out there. Just as Lucky Lindy failed to see Hitler for the monster he was, so does Ron Paul fail to see the threat of Islamic fascists. And like Lindbergh, Ron Paul’s pronouncements on foreign matters have more than a whiff of Anti-Semitism to them.
So what was the main thing accomplished by CPAC in the public’s eyes? Some inside baseball networking for committed activists; a series of zingers and sound bites against Obama; and in the end, a Straw Poll won by a man who has absolutely has no hope of being elected President but, because of his naive, radical foreign policy views, can do terrific harm to the cause of conservatives and the GOP when 2012 comes around.
The Conservative Pundits are cocky right now, maybe with some reason. But unless we Republicans can come up with a rational, common sense plan on the critical issues of the day (Jobs, Energy and True Healthcare and Entitlement reform). Unless we find a way to get that message out and the common man on-board and willing to accept the sacrifices and pain that will come with true, long lasting reform, then all the statements with a man dressed as Washington passing the pen around and all the clever “Bon Mots” delivered in front of party faithful and to adoring applause will, ultimately, be all for naught.
This is the job that confronts GOP Chairman Steele and every State Chairman of the GOP in the Country. The clock is ticking.