Conservative leaders got together and decided, “What we need to do now is pretty much what we’ve been doing since 1955.” These leaders seem to have declared that what happens in Washington DC will be their raison d’être for another 60+ years. The US Marines have an unofficial motto when facing dire circumstances, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” If only the conservative movement would take this saying to heart.
The Mount Vernon Statement is a document by conservative leaders to “recommit [themselves] to the ideas of the American Founding.” It is a well-intentioned assertion that what we need is “a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.” With all due respect to the smart folks who put this document together, haven’t conservatives been articulating these “priceless principles” since William F. Buckley Jr. created National Review in 1955 and Young Americans for Freedom put out the “Sharon Statement” in 1960? What, exactly, will change if they continue down this path for another six decades?
The problem with the Mount Vernon Statement is not the reform it seeks. The document’s authors are spot on when they write, “The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles.” Where the authors fall short is how they believe this change will happen. Conservatives behind this document are listening to a classic vinyl record with a needle that keeps skipping on the phrase, “Government, politics, public policy – government, politics, public policy – government, politics, public policy.” It’s well past time that someone knocked the needle into another groove or, better yet, supplemented the politics/public policy tune with some chords from the cultural influence professions.
The Mount Vernon Statement mentions ‘government’ 12 times. The word ‘culture’ appears once: “America’s principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics.” Emphasis added.
I’ll grant that counting words is no way to determine a document’s value. The document properly points out current government overreach, wisely calls for limited, constitutional government, and declares the importance of personal self-government. Furthermore, it is undeniably true that America principles are “undermined and redefined” in the culture, which, in addition to universities, includes K-12 education, the arts, entertainment, media, and journalism.
Where I see this documents main shortcoming is its focus on politics and public policy embodied in the following: “If we are to succeed in the critical political and policy battles ahead, we must be certain of our purpose.”
Politics is a lagging indicator to cultural trends, not a leading one. If we want our politicians and policy makers to reflect the values that made America great, then the broader culture needs to promote those values. Once that happens on a regular and consistent basis then the nation’s politic leaders will follow.
Jeff Bergner, at the Weekly Standard, wrote,
“The Narrative is the official story about America. It is a story composed by the political left, which entered American public life with the progressive movement in the early 20th century …
The story runs like this. America was founded on the ideal of equality, though that ideal at first was barely put into practice. The story of America is one of progress toward the fulfillment of the ideal of equality. The end of slavery and the achievement of women’s suffrage are landmarks in this story. All fair enough. So is—less plausibly—the federal income tax, originally established to fund the government but later used to redistribute wealth and tax advantages among Americans. Then came the many programs of direct payments to individuals, the so-called entitlements, beginning with Social Security and extending to Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, aid to dependent children, farm subsidies, and myriad others. And today the health care reform bill before Congress takes its place in America’s advance toward equality. Each and every policy that aims to level distinctions between Americans has found its place within The Narrative. …
[T]he left-leaning American professoriate may think of itself as contrarian or skeptical, it operates in lockstep to offer The Narrative as the official view on virtually every college campus. It is reinforced at every turn by the print and electronic media, in the arts, and in every mainstream avenue of American culture. “
The “political and policy battles” mentioned in the Mount Vernon Statement are necessary in the short term. The only way to change the Narrative in the long term, however, is to work within the cultural influence professions. Otherwise, as Bergner wrote in the article linked above, the conservatives who signed this Statement and their progeny will be “condemned to a perpetual rearguard action against the consolidation of government-imposed equality.”
Are policy wonks and lawmakers are going to affect the steady stream of left-liberal propaganda Americans get through television, film, the visual arts, novels, media and journalism? Not likely. As long as conservatives focus their energy entirely on politics and public policy the Narrative will continue undisturbed among these cultural influence professions.
Perhaps I’m off the mark criticizing political and public policy activists for creating a document that myopically focuses on politics and public policy. I feel like the frog who criticized the scorpion for stinging him as they cross the flooded arroyo. That darned scorpion and these political junkies are just doing what’s in their nature.
What we need in addition to the Mount Vernon Statement is a document signed by artists, novelists, filmmakers, media moguls, teachers at all levels, journalists, et al in the cultural influence professions calling for “retaking and resolutely defending the high ground of America’s founding principles.