Free Markets, Free People

The “Constitutional Conservative” Manifesto

Also known as the “Mt. Vernon Statement” is a statement designed to reorient “conservatism”.  I’m not sure it does that at all.

Anyway, the 5 “first principles” which should guide “Constitutional Conservatives” (ConCons?) and which are supposed to “inform” this agenda are:

* It applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.

* It honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life.

* It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.

* It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end.

* It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.

Through point 3, it’s indeed mostly a Constitutional approach I could support as a matter of policy.

However, point 4 is the NeoCon point and point 5 justifies the SocialCon agenda.

Since it isn’t politicians saying it, and despite my former criticism, I assume the writers are committed to them, meaning they’d obviously like to see politicians use point 1 through 3 as their basis for judging the merit of any legislation they may consider. What needs to be more closely defined is what “limited government” means. If that’s not done – and I think a Constitutional case can be made for what government should and shouldn’t do – then the term is relatively meaningless.

Point 4 also needs some further defining. I’m not sure I’m in agreement that as a matter of policy it is our job to “advance freedom” and “oppose tyranny” except here at home. That’s not an isolationist stance, it’s a non-interventionist stance. I recognize “prudently considers what can and should be done” is tacked on to the end of the sentence to provide options. And I’m sure by that they mean soft power as well as hard power, i.e. aid and diplomacy among a myriad of “soft power” options as well as the military option if necessary.

I’m one of those who believe that our job as a country is to defend itself against threats to its security. If, in the pursuit of that, we advance freedom or oppose tyranny via military power, then that’s a good thing. However as a policy objective in and of itself (i.e. our foreign policy is designed to “advance freedom and oppose tyranny”), I’d have to say, “no thanks”. Our foreign policy should be designed to protect this country and advance its peaceful interests (like trade, etc) and generally stay out of the business of other states in areas that don’t involve our national security or trade.

Point 5 is obviously designed to make the SocialCons happy – it’s wide ranging, nebulous and pretty much cancels point 1. In my world, individual liberty has a very specific meaning. Primarily it means I don’t impose my beliefs on others. Practicing your beliefs is the best defense in the world. It demonstrates their power. And, as long as they don’t violate another’s rights, you should be able to do that. Imposing them, however, is a form of “tyranny”, something point 4 says Conservatives are against. The desire – on both sides – to use the law to impose beliefs is not what the Constitution was designed to do. And since this is a manifesto about the “Constitutional Conservative”, I can only suppose that the intent of this rather broad statement is to announce an intent to use the document as a basis for such impositions of belief, via law (because that’s what the Constitution is) of their defense of “family, neighborhood, community, and faith.”

Points 4 and 5 mostly serve to underline “why I’m not a Conservative”. Had they stopped at point 3, I’d have happily endorsed their attempt to refocus “conservatives” (and Republicans). With the inclusion of 4 and 5, they again demonstrate they’ve learned nothing from the NeoCon debacle and on the SocialCon side are just as committed as the left to using the Constitution and the law as a means of imposing their beliefs on others.

Those last two points are simply not consistent with the first three – especially when citing the Constitution. And they certainly don’t reflect what the founders of this Republic intended when they wrote the Constitution. Politicians on the right who adopt all 5 points are asking for trouble. If indeed the intent is to have “Constitutional conservatisim” guide policy, 4 and 5 should be dropped.

Of course, doing so would make them mostly libertarian, wouldn’t it?



17 Responses to The “Constitutional Conservative” Manifesto

  • It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.

    If by that they mean to keep the government from meddling with them as much as possible, I’m all for it.  Otherwise the federal government has no business getting involved.

  • “defense of “family, neighborhood, community, and faith”

    When I think of “family, neighborhood, community, and faith,” I think of voluntary associations or collectivism that does not stem from coercion. These are people who come together, work together, help each other, with motives like love,  or faith induced moral responsibility. The ideas and philosophies of sacrifice and community efforts are not evil. I think we would do well recognize their place in society, and point out that they do have a place, and that family, neighborhood, community, and faith, not government, are the place for them.

    I also  think we need to defend voluntary associations and the rights of individuals to form them with out “state/government” interference. What about the sanctity of the family? Should the state be able to determine how you raise your children?  What is the next larger family “like” group, other than neighborhood, and then community. Can we decide amongst ourselves how our schools and local social activities are organized and managed? Do the “statist” come in and force regulations on: immunizations, diet, charitable cooperations like food pantries and clothes closets, private schools, what I can say in my church, if we have to include registered sex-offenders in our neighborhood… and so on.

    The “do gooders” of the nanny state keep trying to save us from ourselves. They want to govern everything including our charity and child raising.  It is not enough for us to create voluntary associations to help the poor or disadvantaged out of compassion.  They demand that compassion be coerced and then managed by their bureaucracies.

    What is government socialism if not a coerced effort based on a belief / faith in a form of collectivism in community at the direction of the government.  The statist wishes to tear down families, neighborhoods, and voluntary community, or even just slowly evolve them with regulations, into their image of what they feel is best for society.   

    As a Christian, I believe in being a good Samaritan and giving out of the abundance of my heart, not by compulsion. To have the statist, (socialist,) coerce these  matters of faith through government mandate is an affront to my liberty. It forces me to participate in their form of religion at the expense of my own.  In a case like this I see where the constitutional principle established in the first amendment call for a defence of my faith, my liberty to form voluntary associations based on my faith, unimpeded by the statists. 

    What gets me:

    If an organized religion tried to force their views of morality through legislation they would find it nearly impossible. Yet, we are supposed to pass this health care legislation because it is the moral thing for us to do.  Precisely because we do live in a free society, these do gooders have a right to form voluntary associations to cover the medical needs of those they are concerned about. No one is stopping them. All those rich liberal Hollywood stars and sports stars who have been advocating passing this liberal agenda have the means and notoriety to form a nationally reaching organization to get this done. But that doesn’t fit their “faith” in government and government as the solution, does it?

    Let me practice my faith where it does not coerce you to participate, and you do the same for me. I have no faith in your statist answers and coercion, or government programs for societies social problems. 
    Thanks for letting me vent. Please feel no obligation to post my ramblings. Edit them for length if you wish, or dismiss them all together. No hard feelings if you do. 🙂

  • I’d say it’s #4 and even more, #5, that has kept conservatives (read: Republicans) to keep playing second fiddle in elections over the past 50 years, or grossly botching it when they do prevail.
    #5 has got to be a matter of persuasion, rather than force.

  • You can make a case for #4 in some ways but nobody should really embrace #5 as a conservative, strictly from a realpolitic point of view.

  • I think 4 and 5 are an attempt to appeal to the far right wing of the party.  Both the radical left and the radical right pursue policies designed to grant them unacceptable levels of control over our day to day lives and decisions.  Freedom is never absolute, but freedom with too many restrictions isn’t freedom, either.

    • Point 5 is the only point that endorses “federalism”, as point 1 should pretty much apply to all levels of government.

  • Well stated.

  • It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith.

    This is the most contentious point if for no other reason than that it IS “nebulous”.  Where does one draw the line between imposing one’s morality on other people and upholding common-sense laws that are good for the society as a whole?  Consider the hot-button issues of drug legalization, gay marriage, gun ownership, pornography, and nationalized health care.  Good arguments can and often are made on both sides of these issues by honest people who are not interested in imposing on other people, but rather defending their own liberty or trying to make a better, safer, happier society.  Who is right?  When one side prevails because our elected officials make a law in their favor, doesn’t this mean that the other side has had an objectionable morality forced upon it?

    Now, I will say that constitutionally, the federal government shouldn’t be much in the morality business at all; it’s powers are limited such that there isn’t much it SHOULD be able to do one way or another.  Rather, decisions about such issues as listed above should be left to the states and local governments (that they aren’t is a travesty resulting from years of judicial activism).  But even if we return to a pretty strict usage of the IX and X Amendments, we’re still stuck with that nettlesome “morality” problem.  It is nettlesome because, to people on both sides of an issue, it isn’t an issue of morality but rather one of liberty or security.  To the pot smoker, whether he can legally light up a joint isn’t a moral issue: it’s a question an adult’s liberty to do as he pleases so long as he doesn’t harm somebody else.  To those opposed to drugs, it’s a security issue because drugs and crime go together, or an economic issue because drug users are less- or non-productive members of society.

    I suggest that the Mt. Vernon statement represents a good start, but the devil will most assuredly be in the details.

  • As a strong constitutional conservative. when I heard of the Mt. Vernon “manifesto” I was anxious to see it and sign up, this seemed to be the way forward.  What a disappointment, for exactly as stated in this very well written article.  If you want to use the constitution as the basis of your manifesto, don’t invent stuff that isn’t in there like 4 &5,  democracy promotion (perpetual war and imperialism) and morality imposition.  Big disappointment.  I think the problem is that the founders were libertarians and that philosophy is a tough sell in the land of the free these days.

  • “Congress shall make no law…, or abridging freedom of speech…”

    “The powers not delegated  to the United States by the  Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States,  are reserved to the States respectively , or to the people”.

    These two examples seem pretty absolute to me, but obviously they are pretty nebulous to a sufficient number of people as to render them moot.  Those ‘first principles’ sound nice, but they won’t last long in the real world. They didn’t even  last long here, where the crowd can be considered pretty conservative.

    • On the other hand, I guess they have to put out some sort of position statement in a hurry and if a reaffirmation of the Constitution itself isn’t sufficient, those principles aren’t too bad as a compromise quickie to get almost everyone on board.

    • “The powers not delegated  to the United States by the  Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States,  are reserved to the States respectively , or to the people”. – and will be usurped by Congress as within their jurisdiction under the Commerce Clause……because everything comes down to commerce….

  • “Those last two points are simply not consistent with the first three”

    Only if you want them to be libertarians rather than conservatives. Remember: conservatism means fiscal, social, and foreign policy. If you dump one or more of those, you stop being conservative.

    I understand you as a libertarian don’t necessarily agree with those last two points, but they are conservative nevertheless.

    And since the drive to obey the law and follow through on the founding fathers’ vision of the nation comes from a socially conservative basis, the whole thing fits together.

    • They may be “conservative”, but are they “constitutionally” conservative. In my opinion, they’re not – which kind of makes the whole thing a bit of a sham. They’re the one’s that chose to put “constitutional” in front of conservative. With the addition of 4 and5 they ended up with plain, old, vanilla, same-as-it-has-been-for-years conservatism.

  • * It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has their own view of who should be successful and want the system run to ensure that.    Even people who believe their are being non-intrusive actually are being intrusive.
    By calling out “individual entrepreneur” specifically they are elevating them above other forms of business.   Playing favorites and either not realizing it or because of some sentimental or other emotional attachment to how things “should” work.