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Wednesday, 17 February 2010 03:51

The Mount Vernon Proxy: How to Make a Statement When All You Have is Tea and the GOP

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by Meg White

On the eve of the annual conservative meeting known as CPAC, an effort is afoot to bring the tea party movement into the Republican fold.

I'm not talking about the pow wow GOP Chair Michael Steele attempted with the teabaggers yesterday. No, the tea party movement proudly rejects all efforts on the part of Steele to woo them to the table.

"We're not Republicans," they proclaim. "We're American citizens!"

Clearly there's a bit of confusion between nation of origin and political affiliation. Thankfully, there's a group ready to take advantage of such confusion. Alternet reports:

In a bid, perhaps, not to be shunted to the wings of conservatism's center stage, a group of old-school conservative leaders will gather today to put their signatures on something they're calling the Mount Vernon Statement, named for the tangential location of its ceremonial signing, which will take place at a venue that sits on land once part of George Washington's original estate. The Collingwood Library and Museum on Americanism, where the signing will take place, is run by the National Sojourners, an Masonic organization of past and present military officers.

Already Republican National Committee members are calling the statement an effort "to unite Republicans and 'tea party' independents around the cause of defending the Constitution from liberal overreaching."

Alternet also noted that while the media has had a tough time figuring out the guiding principles of the tea party movement, "the Mt. Vernon Statement, should it win the support of Tea Partiers, could give the movement something of a credo."

On the contrary, Talking Points Memo characterized the statement as evidence that the tea party is moving away from the GOP:

Further exposing the split today is a group of conservatives -- many who will attend CPAC -- signing a "manifesto" today at Mt. Vernon.

In truth, the Mount Vernon Statement is a nearly verbatim rehashing of the Sharon Statement, written and adopted in 1960 at the Sharon, CT home of the late conservative rockstar, William F. Buckley Jr. The American Conservative Union, the group responsible for putting on CPAC and a co-signer of the Mount Vernon Statement, calls the Sharon Statement the "first statement of principles of the modern conservative movement." Mount Vernon would, from the way signers are characterizing it, be the second.

Reading the two statements, the only substantive difference is the end-note warning of communist infiltration in the Sharon Statement (which Red State's Erick Erickson today anachronistically insists "stands the test of time").

Virtually the only remaining difference is that Mount Vernon represents the establishment, while Sharon was a rebellion. From Jeffersoniad blogger Rick Sincere:

The publicized signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are all leaders of the conservative Establishment. Most are more than 50 years old; some are in their late 60s and early 70s.  A number of them are old enough to have been at Sharon or, like Richard Viguerie, got their first job in politics shortly after, and as a result of, the Sharon Conference.

The organizers of the series of meetings that culminated in the gathering at the home of Buckley family in Connecticut in September 1960 were nearly all college-age (if not actually college students) and were Young Turks who were rebelling against the Establishment of their day (the Eisenhower-Nixon wing of the Republican party).

...for conservative movement veterans -- many of them comfortably ensconced in leadership positions in well-established institutions with multimillion-dollar budgets -- to compare themselves the the [sic] hungry, motivated, and youthful organizers of Sharon simply boggles the mind.

Sincere also adds that many of the signers at Sharon, CT were gay, and wonders if current conservatives would welcome signers such as the former national director of the legalize marijuana lobby group NORML, whom he identifies as a Sharon signer.

Putting the disingenuous nature of the Mount Vernon Statement creators' intentions aside, this is a clever consolidation technique. The effort boils down to separating the GOP from what they call "Constitutional conservatism," an idea that pretends to be different from the Republican Party. In truth, every one of these high-flying principles are found in the GOP platform.

The Mount Vernon Statement does not hide its intention to unite (emphasis mine):

A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world.

See? We can all get along in the upcoming elections, guys!

As if to underscore this disconnect, Mount Vernon Statement signer and conservative leader Richard Viguerie first mocked the effort in an interview with the Washington Times earlier this week before affixing his name to the document. Right Wing Watch dug up the quote this morning:

"This is embarrassing," activist and longtime direct-mail advertiser Richard Viguerie told The Washington Times. "If the people in the leadership of the conservative movement are going to put out pablum like this, the tea party people are going to make them seem irrelevant. And the tea party people are going to march to the forefront."

In a dig at current and former Republican congressional leaders whom many blame for betraying conservative principles of limited government and reduced spending, Mr.Viguerie added, "This is almost as if the movements leaders were taken over by Tom DeLay and John Boehner."

Right Wing Watch further noted that today Viguerie's calling the document an effort to "begin the process of reclaiming the Republican Party for small-government conservatives."

In reality, all this rebellion talk boils down to what the right wing needs to do about the unpopularity of President George W. Bush and his big spending cronies in Congress. Establishment conservatives such as Buckley railed against that meme, and teabaggers have slowly been forced to come to terms with the fact that the deficit they hate so much was run up by the Bush Administration. But to avoid forcing former Bushies into exile, the group is uniting behind a universally lovable document (which Bush incidentally stomped all over): the constitution.

The only remaining question is: Will it work?

My guess is that it probably will. If the convoluted "revolutionary" talk of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin can win over the teabaggers, a more artfully-hidden co-option of the movement by establishment conservatives should be a piece of cake, as long as they keep Michael Steele out of the room.