"This is embarrassing."
That is what direct mail tycoon and conservative rainmaker Richard Viguerie told Ralph Hallow, official scrivener of the conservative "movement" for the Washington Times, when Hallow asked him about the ballyhooed Mount Vernon Statement.
(In case you hadn't heard, the Mount Vernon Statement, released on Feb. 17, is a manifesto that America's Beltway conservatives threw together to oppose President Barack Hussein Obama. At least ostensibly.)
"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," the king of direct-mail fundraising huffed.
"[I]n a dig at current and former Republican congressional leaders whom many blame for betraying conservative principles of limited government and reduced spending," Hallow reported, "Mr. Viguerie added, 'This is almost as if the movement's leaders were taken over by Tom DeLay and John Boehner.'" [Conservative manifesto makes bid to reunify, By Ralph Z. Hallow, February 15, 2010]
In fact, it was as if the movement's leader were taken over by … Viguerie himself. Two days later, Viguerie not only signed the Mount Vernon statement, but also pronounced it absolutely wonderful:
"I feel it's a good first step, and I applaud those conservatives who have provided the leadership to produce this statement of conservative principles. In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with all principled conservatives, including the newest branch of the small-limited government coalition, the Tea Partiers, to take the steps necessary to maximize our victories in 2010 and beyond. For years, I've said the number one problem for the cause of limited government is that many conservatives became an appendage of the GOP." [Richard Viguerie on the Mount Vernon Statement, February 17, 2010]
And, said he who had been embarrassed 24 hours earlier, "Hopefully, the Mount Vernon Statement will draw a line to clearly separate the principled conservatives from the majority of Washington politicians (Republican and Democratic) who want to continue to expand the reach, power, control, and influence of government at all levels."
We don't know what internecine infighting caused Viguerie to change his mind. But he and the rest of the usual crowd of Beltway conservatives ginned up The Conservative Action Project just in time for the Conservative Political Action Conference (see here for Peter Brimelow's reflections on last year's CPAC) and just days after the national Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
Anyone with a brain knows what's going on here. The cast of conmen who have been helming the Beltway Right for 40 years, described by Fox News as a "Who's Who" of "conservative grass roots leaders", see in the newly awakened Americans who have taken to the streets to oppose the president's leftist agenda a sorely-needed cash cow.
Check the Web sites that feature the statement. They ask for signatories to provide contact information, sometimes including…a mailing address! One site features a questionnaire asking the signer to reveal his "interests."
And these professional "conservatives" really believe these Americans are going to buy their little document.
The Mount Vernon Statement is supposedly based on the Sharon Statement. M. Stanton Evans, legend has it, penned the Sharon Statement on the back of cocktail napkin in about five minutes for the opening meeting of Young American for Freedom at William F. Buckley Jr.'s estate in Sharon, Conn., back in 1960.
But the Mount Vernon Statement has none of the Sharon Statement's heft, such as it was. It sounds as if a high school student wrote it. And if the statement is supposed to be a statement of conservative principles, it falls rather flat:
"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. A Constitutional conservatism based on first principles provides the framework for a consistent and meaningful policy agenda."
Too bad there don't seem to be any plain old "patriotic conservatives".
Whatever these Beltway savants think they're describing, it isn't traditional conservatism—which is not an ideology, as Daniel Larison reminded us that Russell Kirk taught in The Conservative Mind. Conservatism cannot, Kirk wrote, be boiled down to a "few pretentious phrases." Those are best left "to the enthusiasm of radicals." The words "policy agenda" do not appear in the Sharon Statement.
Furthermore, naming this boilerplate after the home of George Washington, insults America's first isolationist. For this "Mount Vernon Statement" to claim that genuine conservatism "supports America's national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world" is preposterous. Washington would have said that "advancing freedom" is not the job of America. Indeed, he would likely have told the Mount Vernon mountebanks to turn their eyes away from Baghdad and toward the Mexican border.
But back to what's really at stake: millions of dollars in contributions to what writer Sean Scallon rightly called Conservative Inc.
Believe me, I know.
I spent years in Washington, D.C., toiling in the conservative vineyards. I can verify that Sam Francis was, and Mr. Scallon is, absolutely correct: The conservative movement ceased early to be a movement and became a collection of professional fundraisers. Having achieved "victory" when Ronald Reagan was elected, they did nothing except relieve millions of widows of millions in retirement savings. Conservatives have accomplished virtually nothing after 40 years of sedulous if sotted activity in the Republic's capital.
Some of the shenanigans I was involved in were so pointless as to be comical. They included staging impromptu street protests against liberals, raising money for the Nicaraguan contras and Angolan anti-communist rebels and running a campaign to support then Col. Oliver North after Iran-Contra blew up in his face. But I still have photographs with Angolan anti-communist rebel Jonas Savimbi and reputed Salvadoran death-squad leader Robert D'Aubuisson!
I worked at the Conservative Political Action Conference during the Reagan years, but never met the Gipper himself. The operators who ran Young American for Freedom, which then cosponsored the event, wouldn't let the unwashed, lowly staff members into the high-dollar reception, where big donors to the cause met and shook hands with Reagan and otherwise rubbed elbows with the likes of Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese (now one of the signers of the Mount Vernon Statement).
CPAC then was and now is less an intellectual exercise than a massive fund-raising bazaar—not only for its sponsors, the American Conservative Union and, formerly, Young Americans for Freedom, but also for the many exhibitors who erected booths to distribute literature and sell their wares. At night, conservatives-from-the-waist-up went in for drunken debauchery and wild parties. The lubricants of alcohol and putative political power generously applied, evenings likely ended in some serious domestic drilling. At least they did something about the energy crisis.
In 1984, I attended the Republican National Convention, where Frank Sinatra ignored me, NBC newsman John Chancellor waved hello from his skybox, and Jack Kemp was escorted by a pack of earnest and fetching young men. I even ran into an anchorman from a home-town television station that I had watched since I was a kid. Anyway, YAF and other conservative outfits scattered their literature and clanged their cymbals, which mostly involved promoting the names and faces of the unctuous grifters who ran them. Otherwise, they accomplished precisely nothing except to spend donors' money on drinking and strip clubs. Well, maybe they spent some of their own money on the strip club.
The beginning of the end of that YAF administration began when a group of disaffected board directors burst into a meeting of other directors, with tape recorders and extension cords at the ready to record the proceedings. They staged a coup d'etat, using charges of criminal financial impropriety. That scandal landed in the brand new Washington Times (The Moon Street Journal, as a friend called it), which disclosed the embezzlement of funds that included the lease of a Mercedes Benz for the organization's executive director.
But other Beltway conservative organizations operated the same way: They raised tons of money by scaring blue-haired old ladies with the communist threat, then spent the ill-gotten booty on salaries, internecine warfare, more direct mail and, of course, eating at The Palm.
One amusing and frequently used mail tactic urged recipients to sign postcards protesting impending legislation or a new government policy. The target of the solicitation then returned said postcard to the organization—donation included, hopefully—which in turn delivered sacks of these things to a congressman, who was supposed to be sufficiently impressed by or terrified of the "grass roots" to do its bidding.
Naturally, what really happened was this: The honcho of the organization got a picture with the congressman accepting the mail for the organization's newsletter, which donors would read and thus believe their message had been heard. The honcho then landed at Bullfeathers, The Monocle or some other Capitol Hill "eatery" for an expensive, and perhaps boozy, lunch or dinner.
Meanwhile, the congressman got down to business with the postcards. He read one, promptly had the rest tossed in the Capitol incinerator and went back to molesting the secretaries and congressional pages. (This is hyperbole, of course.)
So let's just say I doubt the petitions I helped deliver to then Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a conventional political hack, did a whole lot of good.
A top staff member for Sen. Jesse Helms held a weekly luncheon at which conservatives gathered to discuss the issues of the day. They were great fun. But nothing much happened unless you counted the attendees angrily poking their fingers in air and spinning conspiracy theories about the Temple Mount.
The same was true for other regular gatherings. They accomplished little beyond permitting conservatives to "network", which allowed them to rotate among the many organizations that lived on donations. Off-color jokes safely told in the company of friends were another benefit.
That was 30 years ago. You'd think after three decades of activism and delivering petitions and lobbying, the conservatives who now propose to milk the Tea Party saps with their Mount Vernon manifesto would have something to show for their work. Yet despite all the promises in direct mail to "do something" about the following issues, the status quo, prevails:
Reagan entered office on a promise to eliminate two cabinet departments, Energy and Education. He had the mandate. When he left, he had not eliminated those cabinet agencies and another popped up in 1989: Veteran's Affairs He never vetoed a budget; huge deficits were the result. He threw open the borders with his amnesty of 1986, and despite promises to the contrary, they've remained open ever since.
Beltway "conservatives" long ago bought the myth that America was a "proposition" or "creedal" nation—anyone can be an American if he gives assent to the "proposition" or "creed." As a "nation of immigrants," America has no racial, ethnic, cultural or linguistic core.
This is why the Mount Vernon Statement emphasizes the Declaration of Independence and avers that conservatism "honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life." The "individual" is what counts.
Problem is, as Sam Francis observed, the Declaration was mostly a lot of "Enlightenment table talk" meant to gain European allies to support the War of Independence, and beyond that it was merely a list of grievances against a pretty good king. In contrast, our founding document in the Constitution sought to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity"—emphasis added. The founders were not "proposition" or "creedal" Americans. However politically incorrect it is today, they did believe that only certain people—namely Europeans—could or should become Americans.
Real conservatism actually "honors the central place" of kith and kin, as well as duty and responsibility—not merely "individual liberty" in the sense Americans understand those terms today. Real conservatism honors one's home and land. It doesn't contemplate surrender to an alien culture or religion.
As Kirk said, conservatism is a disposition, not an ideology. It ties men to their ancestors, their history and their traditions. It binds them to the past, from which they are supposed to learn and which is supposed to shape them and remind them of who they are.
G.K. Chesterton explained it thusly:
"Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father."
The Mount Vernon Statement neither resurrects nor attempts to preserve either tradition or an authentic conservative vision for the American nation. If anything, it enshrines the neoconservative invade-the-world-invite-the-world heresy.
But beyond that, it's just a scam. It aims at commandeering the Tea Party movement and rebuilding mailing lists that dwindled during the past 30 years, as the World War II "Greatest Generation" died off.
Richard Viguerie was right the first time: This is embarrassing.A.W. Morgan [Email him] is fully recovered from prolonged contact with the Beltway Right. He now lives in America.