During the course of 16 years spent writing commentary columns, first in newspapers and subsequently online for The Daily Caller and other outlets, one often wonders if they are having an influence beyond the message boards and many personal e-mails sent from engaged readers.
While I would never claim the intellectual property rights associated with the thinking in the Mount Vernon Statement released last week, I will lay claim to being among those individual Americans planting a stake in the ground and calling for a return to first principles.
I was not alone in this endeavor.
I’ve read good works over the last several years—from Thomas Sowell, Professor Thomas Moore, Walter Williams, and others—individuals with whom many of you are familiar. They should be commended for their efforts and they should gain confidence from these recent developments.
Yet, it needs saying that this is more than analogous to the fan who takes some pride, maybe even credit, for his team’s victory in a big game. (ROLL TIDE!)
The fervor sweeping the nation—for limited government, for maximum individual freedom, for responsible state stewardship—has its roots in our nation’s founding documents. For it is those founding principles, so brilliantly delineated in our Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, that are at the center of what the contemporary conservative movement stands for, and has long fought for, since it’s genesis in September 1960.
It hardly seems that almost 50 years have passed since, at Great Elm, William F. Buckley’s family home in Sharon, Conn., about 100 student activists from around the country gathered to hammer out a statement of principles for a new conservative group. The 368-word charter, dictated by a young M. Stanton Evans, became known as “the Sharon Statement.”
Stan Evans’ concisely crafted words of wisdom would inspire generations of Americans. The group’s name: “Young Americans for Freedom.” YAF is the nation’s oldest and most recognized conservative-libertarian youth activist organization.
And so, when news came early last week that some number of Washington power brokers, who had previously come together as the Conservative Action Project, would be reviewing “the Sharon Statement” and releasing an update to be called “the Mount Vernon Statement”—it gave me pause. What might they be up to? Have conservative principles changed?
For certain, times change.
So, an update that calibrates can make some sense.
But, a calibration is just that.
A calibration may be a tweak, here or there, but it cannot change principles.
If it does change original principles, then it is neither calibration nor clarification—it is manipulation.
This thought process brought to mind memory fragments of a Russell Kirk admonition, “Conservatism is not first about party or faction; but about a state of mind, a way of looking at reality … sustained by a body of sentiments.” So, I prayed that principled sentiments would prevail so the group would not get far afield from the clear principles authored by Stan Evans in the Sharon Statement.
Then last Wednesday, on the eve of the CPAC conference, came release of the Mount Vernon Statement with names of participating signers. Of those assembled to draft the Mount Vernon Statement, almost all are party loyalists. Equally true, and most important however, is that most of the participants who signed the Mount Vernon Statement have been great conservative movement leaders, albeit a half-generation or so on the heels of Bill Buckley, Stan Evans, Lee Edwards, et al.
After reading the Mount Vernon Statement, I can report good news.
The Mount Vernon Statement does not supplant the Sharon Statement. The Sharon Statement stands alone. It epitomizes precise principles.
Importantly, the Mount Vernon Statement is an accurate essay response to the governmental machinations citizens have been experiencing. When you read the Mount Vernon Statement—and you should—you can decide if you agree with its treatise; and, if you do, for how long of the recent past you think it applies: the last year, the last nine years, the last 19 years, or longer?
I’ll paraphrase former Attorney General Edwin Meese who described it best when he said the Mount Vernon Statement is “aimed explicitly at reminding every economic conservative that morality is essential to limited government; social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to morality; and national security conservatives (as well as civil libertarians) that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership around the world.”
Concerned citizens would be wise to thoroughly review both documents.
Another trend picked up by those crafting the Mount Vernon Statement is a recognition in political messaging that the mantle of change and reform has to be placed into perspective. The change America should seek and support, for the destiny of man, must be viewed in the context of the history of man. That’s what we have tried to enunciate with the organizing principles of Citizens for Change.
Our mission statement, reads as follows:
In the entire length of the human experience, America’s more than two century existence is but a short time. Yet, America’s birth stands as the singular moment of change in man’s relation to man and the primacy of self-government. If it is an aberration, we consider it the perfect aberration and therefore worth conserving, preserving, cultivating and promoting. If change is a constant, then responsible citizens need to engage in every public process to ensure change always moves towards greater individual freedom and away from statism, servitude, socialism, collectivism, fascism and communism.
Those Americans who do read both the Sharon Statement and the Mount Vernon Statement will gain a clearer understanding of how to secure the American founding.
Then, it will take both Young & Older Americans for Freedom to rally ‘round and persistently stand together in order to maintain the vitality of our constitutional principles.
Richard Olivastro is president of Olivastro Communications, a professional member of the National Speakers Association and founder of Citizens For Change. He can be reached at Rich@Olivastro.NET or 877.RichSpeaks.