Today the "Mount Vernon Statement" was released, and I'm not all that happy. Oh, I don't really have any objections to what the statement says. I'm just disappointed that it had to be written at all.
The Mount Vernon Statement is supposed to be an updating of the Sharon Statement, signed by young conservatives in Sharon, Connecticut in 1960. It was bold and new at the time, because the young conservatives who put it together (for Young Americans for Freedom) were thinking bold and new thoughts.
Every one of the signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are undoubtably conservative, but with the exception of Kathryn Lopez of National Review, I don't think you could call any of them "young". In fact, if I recall correctly, at least one of the signers of the original Sharon Statement 50 years ago has signed on to the Mount Vernon Statement.
I'm not disappointed in these signers for this statement. I'm disappointed, frankly, that these elder statesmen of conservatism feel like they have to do this. These guys built a conservative movement from scratch 50 years ago, and my generation has been content to work for them, draw a paycheck from them, and coast on their ideas.
Even worse, I'm sure that my generation could write a great statement of principles, but what these conservatives did 50 years ago went far beyond words on paper. They built brick and mortar institutions like the Heritage Foundation, the Media Research Center, and of course Young Americans for Freedom. Our generation seems more interested in coming up with the venture capital needed for new blogs and websites. We're less interested in buildng a movement than in building our resumes or retirement accounts. We talk a lot, but we don't actually do much.
Perhaps it's not necessary for us to be architects of a 21st century conservatism. Perhaps we can stand on the shoulders of giants and use the institutions they created to further the conservative movement. Perhaps, but I'm not that optimistic. Is there room in modern conservatism for new and bold ideas that hearken back to the timeless principles enshrined in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence? Heck, is there room in modern conservatism to point out that the Declaration of Independence isn't all that conservative a document?
A return to the conservatism of 1960 wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I'm not convinced it's the best possible outcome. My generation has failed (and I include myself in this failure) to consider how to implement these timeless principles in a 21st century America, much less start the process of building the infrastructure that will be needed. I'm hopeful that the Tea Party movement may be the start of this process, but it's also clear that there are a lot of forces (both good and bad) who are trying to co-opt the Tea Parties for their own purposes.
In short, I'm feeling good about the chances for Republicans in 2010. I'm not feeling so good about the future of conservatism.