Does Conservatism Have A Future? Trump And Sanders, 55 Years After The Sharon Statement

Christopher Bedford Former Editor in Chief, The Daily Caller News Foundation
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Are we conservative?

It’s a question worth asking.

When the biggest-drawing presidential candidate is a socialist, when the Republican front-runner is a reality TV star, it’s worth wondering if we ever really were. We: The Americans.

Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan. These men bestrode 20th century politics, each standing for largely different things. So how could sound political conservatism be the reason for Mr. Reagan’s popularity when Messrs. Roosevelts each represent its rejection?

Maybe the real reason all three ascended wasn’t necessarily their ideas, but how they made Americans feel in their moment of crisis.

In our moment of crisis, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump seem to have harnessed something similar: A populism, which drawing its power from the industrialists, the Depression, the Malaise, the illegals or the bankers, has captivated the people.

All populists respond to the peculiar interests of their times, but beyond his ascension, Mr. Reagan was right for his. And his ideas — our ideas — are right for now.

Because populism being popular doesn’t mean right-thinking isn’t the solution, any more than eight disastrous years under this White House do. Thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to Edmund Burke flourished because they — their ideas, their values, their civilizations — were in grave danger, and long since, we’ve trudged through dark days to build the greatest civilization the world has ever seen.

It’s likely that America isn’t necessarily conservative now any more than it was in the days of Roosevelts or Reagans, but before the Republican Party — led astray by a quarter century of Bush Republicanism — settles for an easy, gut-level populism, remember that conservatives have had the solution in the past. And have those solutions still.

Because the truths that gird our philosophy are eternal, and there isn’t a more fitting day to remember what we believe than Friday– the 55th anniversary of the Sharon Statement and a pivotal moment in conservatives long march to the White House.

Disheartened by a half century of war and depression, the young adults of 1960 were children when their parents first exploded atoms, and they lived every day under the threat of that fire come again. America was beset by enemies foreign and domestic, and in the face of ascendant liberal ideology, GOP leadership offered not “a choice,” but “an echo.”

Just as today.

So two months before John F. Kennedy would defeat Richard M. Nixon, 90 or so young men and women gathered at the Sharon, Connecticut estate of their young leader, William F. Buckley, to declare, “In this time of moral and political crises, it is the responsibility of the youth of America to affirm certain eternal truths.”

The “certain eternal truths” that followed were the most succinct explanation of American political conservatism since the Bill of Rights — and remain so today:

That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;

That the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the preservation of internal order, the provision of national defense, and the administration of justice;

That when government ventures beyond these rightful functions, it accumulates power, which tends to diminish order and liberty;

That the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role, while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power;

That the genius of the Constitution—the division of powers—is summed up in the clause that reserves primacy to the several states, or to the people, in those spheres not specifically delegated to the Federal government;

That the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs;

That when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation; that when it takes from one man to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;

That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;

That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;

That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace; and

That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?

Under this banner, the students and activists present formed Young Americans for Freedom — a project that would go on to provide the foot soldiers of the Goldwater Revolt and the Reagan Revolution, continuing today with Young America’s Foundation on 185 campuses and growing.

M. Stanton Evans, the 26-year-old newspaper man who wrote the Sharon Statement, passed away in March, just a week after a half-century of YAF alumni gathered in National Harbor to regale their wins, recall their losses, and meet the bright high school and college students battling for the same eternal truths they still love. We also wrote Stan a letter, and enclosed a picture of old friends and new faces.

This Friday and Saturday, mindful of the wars our country entered 41 years to the day after Sharon, and prepared for the fights we have to come, current and former YAFers will again be gathering, this time at the Foundation’s headquarters in Reston, Virginia.

It’s important today to recall these truths, just as it was when American liberty faced far greater threats than a flashy entertainer and a socialist from the same city.

As YAF’s honorary chairman, President Reagan, warned, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Fifty five years after Sharon, the things we stood for remain much the same. So make your case to America, conservatives. Now as much as ever.

Christopher Bedford is a senior editor of The Daily Caller, editor in chief of The Daily Caller News Foundation, and vice chairman of Young Americans for Freedom. You can follow him here on Twitter and Facebook.