In the town of Sharon, Connecticut, on September 11th, 1960, a document urging the advancement of conservative values among American youth was signed. It was known as the Sharon Statement, and, among other things, it talked of increasing the power of the individual states and the limiting of the power of the federal government, recognizing Communism as the chief enemy of American ideals and a danger that must be actively overcome rather than diplomatically dealt with, and aligning American foreign policy to a satisfactory answer to the question, “does it [foreign policy] serve the just interests of the United States?”
This statement became conspicuously relevant on February 17th, 2010, when prominent conservative leaders converged at the Collingwood Library in Alexandria Virginia to sign the Mount Vernon Statement. Modeled on the Sharon Statement, it was a terse document advocating less government, free-market solutions to economic problems, and “advancing freedom and opposing tyranny”, and considering ways to achieve that end.
This signing was meant to coincide with what seems to be a conservative movement gaining steam in the United States. With the surprise election to the U.S. Senate of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and growing discontent over the long-dragged out health care debate, 2010 appears to be the magic year for conservatives to regain some of the influence lost in the 2006 and 2008 elections to liberals.
However, this document, meant to reaffirm conservative values and their place in today’s America, is not so much an affirmation of a movement that threatens to steamroll the Democrat-controlled chambers of Congress, but an attempt to focus a splintered group of discontents against the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. In other words, it is a reactionary document meant to strengthen a reactionary movement, with only glittering generalities like “defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith” and “honor[ing] the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life” upon which to support their argument.
Don’t be mistaken. I’m not criticizing this movement because it attacks President Obama (the statement’s website explains the “need for clarity in the Age of Obama”). The Mount Vernon Statement lacks specific ways to achieve its goals, and its only goals seem to be the destruction of its political opponents rather than the positive advancement of its own political solutions. Like the Sharon Statement, the Mount Vernon Statement was vague in what it wanted: liberty and that whole song-and-dance. Like the Sharon Statement the Mount Vernon Statement was reactionary. The former wanted to take an activist approach to defeat communism, and preferred this to a diplomatic advance of democracy. The latter wanted to, apparently, bring an end to the “Age of Obama”, as if this terrible epoch was something to be defeated rather than an opportunity to reevaluate and retool.
It makes sense: the statement had to be vague so it could gain as much support as possible (especially since the conservative Tea Party movement itself is splintered), and the statement had to be against something rather than for something because one of the quickest ways to unite people is to unite them against a common “enemy”.
But vilification is the oldest trick in the book, and has been getting old as of late. The Mount Vernon Statement, though it provides some general outlines to support its own platform, must not appeal to reaction, but to action. Unfortunately, much of the conservative clout as of late has been reaction: Scott Brown was voted into office on the promise that he will stop the filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, for example. And Republicans would not even be discussing health care reform, much less suggesting a solution to improve health care if liberals had not brought up the topic. Before getting caught up in simple, nostalgic statements about family, liberty, security, and such, please be specific; otherwise, the result is just sweet nothings mixed with propaganda. Then we’ll evaluate.