Right-Wing Stunts and Tea Party Froth on the Eve of Conservatives' Yearly Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As the day of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference approaches, Washington is abuzz about the new kid in town: the Tea Party movement.


Like any conference, this one, which kicks off tomorrow, will have its yearly star, likely to be drawn from the ranks of that rancorous mob of discontents. The whole shebang will conclude with a closing address by Fox News personality Glenn Beck, Rupert Murdoch's community organizer and  online convener of the 9/12 March on Washington. (You may recall the 2007 queen of CPAC, Ann Coulter, made big news for calling John Edwards, then a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, "a faggot" -- an accusation he has since disproved in a rather spectacular fashion.)

In a bid, perhaps, not to be shunted to the wings of conservatism's center stage, a group of old-school conservative leaders will gather today to put their signatures on something they're calling the Mount Vernon Statement, named for the tangential location of its ceremonial signing, which will take place at a venue that sits on land once part of George Washington's original estate. The Collingwood Library and Museum on Americanism, where the signing will take place, is run by the National Sojourners, an Masonic organization of past and present military officers.

The statement will sound an ominous chord, likely to win the favor of Tea Party activists, about the message of change for America so identified with the Obama presidential campaign, even asking if "this idea of change" is "a dangerous deception."

The idea for the statement, say organizers, is the Sharon Statement on which the New Right was formed in the early 1960s. The Sharon Statement was a declaration of principles, not specific to any one issue, but rather to the philosophy of the conservative movement during its salad days under the leadership of the late William F. Buckley.

In recent weeks, the often chaotic character of the Tea Party camp has received attention from the mainstream media, which has shone a light on disputes between various factions. Yesterday, the New York Times ran a feature about the movement's ties to the Patriot and militia movements. Yet most reporters, including me, have had a hard time discerning a consistent ideology within the movement, other than an overriding sense of paranoia and an opposition to all things Obama. The Mt. Vernon Statement, should it win the support of Tea Partiers, could give the movement something of a credo.

Leading today's ceremony will be former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who served under President Ronald Reagan, and was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal. Signers read like a who's who of the right's stalwarts, including David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union (which hosts the CPAC convention), Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Richard Viguerie, a direct-mail entrepreneur and founder of the religious right. AlterNet tried to reach Viguerie for comment, since he truly sits at the nexus of the old "New Right" and the Tea Party movement, which he has been helping to organize. Viguerie's assistant told us he would not be available to talk with AlterNet for the rest of the week.

The whole statement will not be released, organizers say, until tomorrow's signing ceremony. Individuals will then be able to add their names to the document via the Mount Vernon Statement Web site. This excerpt has been circulated to media:

In recent decades, America's principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The self-evident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.

Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead -- forward or backward, up or down? Isn't this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?

The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The conservatism of the Declaration [of Independence] asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature's God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man's self-interest but also his capacity for virtue.

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