Finding things in common

The Mount Vernon Statement

[Via Eunomia}

What is there to say about this statement, which is being called a new conservative “manifesto”? Someone might object that Russell Kirk said that conservatives do not have manifestoes, but that would be entirely too quaint and old-fashioned. What is one to make of the organizers’ selection of the site of George Washington’s home for a statement that refers to a foreign policy of “advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world”? I would say that it is in extremely poor taste, but then this statement is not directed at people like me.

My admiration for Washington comes partly from his rejection of the sort of militaristic Caesarism that fuels the modern cult of the Presidency in which so many conservatives indulge. I agree with his advice that we should “observe good faith and justice towards all nations” and that we should “cultivate peace and harmony with all.” Most modern conservatives today embrace antagonistic, confrontational policies either informed by a hubristic nationalism or inspired by a misguided fear of vastly exaggerated threats. I also agree with Washington that “[t]he great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.” It would amaze me if most of the signatories of the Mount Vernon Statement would endorse this view. After all, how can we exhaust our resources “advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world” if we do not enmesh ourselves deeply in the politics of every other continent?

I cannot object to the statement that the “federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.” This is true. However, I have no idea why the organizers of this gathering think that anyone will believe their professions of constitutionalism after enabling or acquiescing in some of the most grotesque violations of constitutional republican government in the last forty years. If constitutional conservatism means anything, it has to mean that the executive branch does not have wide, sweeping, inherent powers derived from the President’s (temporary) military role. It has to mean that all these conservatives will start arguing that the President cannot wage wars on his own authority, and they will have to argue this no matter who occupies the Oval Office. It has to mean unwavering conservative hostility to the mistreatment of detainees, and it has to mean that conservatives cannot accept the detention of suspects without charge, access to counsel or recourse to some form of judicial oversight. Obviously, constitutional conservatives could in no way tolerate or overlook policies of indefinite detention or the abuse of detainees. They would have to drive out the authoritarians among them, and rediscover a long-lost, healthy suspicion of concentrated power, especially power concentrated in the hands of the executive.


Daniel Larison, writing at the American Conservative, and I may disagree about some things but there often are a surprising number of overlaps, which makes him my favorite conservative commentator. even when I disagree it is interesting to ‘argue’ with him. Mainly because his arguments, even when I disagree, make sense. They are rational.

So I love it when we come at something the same way.

Here is one. We both hate the concentration of power in the Executive Branch. It seems to follow a natural human wish, by both conservatives and liberals, to have a king who will just unilaterally make decisions that we want to happen.

And over the last generation or more, Congress has happily given up much of its power, mostly to conservative Presidents. But once given the power, I do not see a President of either party giving up power.

Our Founding Fathers split up government into three separate parts, hoping to drive this natural wish so far underground that it could never create a King to rule us. Other democracies get by with just two branches, often putting the legislative and executive branches together. Our Federal government was set up to not do anything. At least most of the time.

And, even as a liberal in many of my viewpoints, I like it that way. Because, although I might not like much conservative thought, I know that it can only really become bothersome if all 3 branches of the government agree. And this will only happen when when a very large number of people want those things done. It should not happen by fiat from a ruler.

Similarly, I would expect most conservatives to feel the same way. And through most of our history this has worked fine. Maybe not perfect but generally really large changes in how the Federal government does something happen only after a long period of examination and finally support by a large percentage of the population,

Craven people in the legislative branch have been willing to give up much of their power, mostly because they can continue to get elected that way. Corporations give plenty of money, both directly and indirectly, to provide enough influence for both parties.

It has all become a fancy kabuki show, at least on the Congressional side. Because it is now so broken it can not legislate and does not really seem to want to. Even for the small amount of work that the Founding Fathers expected it to produce. So even if everyone in the US wanted something to get done, it would not happen.


Our government today is not really beholden to people. It is beholden to money, to the corporations that have so much more than all of us and the influence to get what they want, to the detriment to the citizens.

Now, that is not strictly their fault. Like the scorpion in the parable, “That is its nature.” But we should definitely do something about it.

If someone wanted to create a manifesto, create one about breaking the hold of corporations on our politics. I think you would get a lot of liberals and conservatives to sign that one. As long as it was untouched by the stink of vested interests, as the Mount Vernon Manifesto is.

This Mount Vernon Manifesto is more of the same pablum from those with the money and power to influence things. It is what they put out to make people feel good about something but it will result in little change. As Daniel said:

The standard being set by this statement is so low that anyone in the conservative movement could claim to agree with everything in the document and still merrily go about his way violating both the letter and the spirit of the principles to which he supposedly just subscribed. The statement is so generic and so divorced from any contemporary policy debate that everyone from Marc Thiessen to Ron Paul could endorse it without the endorsement having any effect on their current policy views. Any consensus this broad and unrelated to actual policy is pretty meaningless.

We see this on the liberal side also. Mainly from the DLC types, the ones so beholden to corporations that they seem willing to give up all our liberal beliefs just to maintain their lifestyles. There is compromise and then there is going against basic principles. Neither party is immune. It won’t change very easily.

And the people that want to keep this broken government going are the ones who put out things like the Mount Vernon Manifesto on the right or tell us to accept a mandate without cost controls on the left. Playing platitudes to people by craven leaders who really do not want to follow those principles but to simply keep in power.

They have relied on the general lack of awareness of the American people, coupled with the geniality. It has worked for 30 years but people are waking up. The Internet helps a lot.

I believe that the fault of our Founding Fathers, the thing they overlooked, was the need to control the power and the influence of money on our form of government. I do not think they could have seen the harmful effects of such huge amounts of money that is now spread around so widely. If so, they would have put something into the Constitution preventing the ability of large groups of people created solely to make a profit to be treated as if they were a citizen, with all the rights of a citizen, including financing legislation of politicians.

There are some strange things that can happen but I would not be surprised if some populist leader was able to fuse the anger at corporations, on both the left and right. into a force for change. I wonder what that change might be.

Maybe a constitutional amendment. Here is a real simple one:

   Section 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity.

   `Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.’.

I’d rather see something stronger, something that simply states that groups of people do not have the rights of people.

As Judge Stevens said in his dissent to Citizens United:

It might also be added that corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.

They are not members. We the People should not include corporations.

I hope for a time when this is true. Then people like Daniel and I can get back to really basic discussions of conservatism and liberalism, instead of agreeing about so much,

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