Notable conservative leaders craft manifesto to energize, coordinate supporters

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010; 6:00 AM

Some of the nation's most prominent conservative leaders will gather Wednesday to unveil what they propose as a manifesto for a growing movement against the political establishment.

The "Mount Vernon Statement,'' to be signed on an Alexandria estate once owned by George Washington, is billed as a declaration of conservative values and beliefs. Organizers say it is modeled after the 1960 Sharon Statement, signed at the Connecticut home of William F. Buckley Jr., which helped usher in the modern conservative movement.

"We don't talk about specific issues or parties or the current political situation,'' said Alfred S. Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator magazine. He helped draft the statement as part of the Conservative Action Project, a new group seeking to coordinate the chorus of voices. "It's a philosophical foundation, based on the concept of constitutional conservatism. It's written so most conservatives can say, 'Yeah, this is just what I think.' "

Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, organizers released only an excerpt of the two-page document. It says in part, "The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant. . . . The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles.''

The gathering of more than 80 leaders, to be led by Reagan-era attorney general Edwin Meese III, comes as the conservative movement's many strands are joining together in opposition to Obama's policies -- and to moderate Republicans they see as insufficiently conservative. The network of loosely affiliated conservative blogs, radio hosts, "tea party" organizers and D.C. institutions is spreading through new media and increasingly coordinating its message.

Yet tensions linger between the conservative establishment in Washington and younger, grass-roots activists. Some question whether a meeting of Beltway elder statesmen would accomplish much in a political climate that has spawned a year of tea party protests, fiery town-hall meetings and the triumph of Republicans in Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey.

"It's nice to make a statement, but without a strategy to implement these ideas, what does it really accomplish?'' said Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a grass-roots group that has trained several thousand tea party activists. Ryun, the son of former congressman Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), said conservatives "have been stuck in the mind-set that good ideas win out simply because they're good ideas. Without proper organization, they don't.''

A Democratic National Committee spokesman did not respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment on the conservative group's plans.

The statement emerged from a working group set up by the Conservative Action Project, which is chaired by Meese and has been circulating influential memos "for the movement" on issues such as health care and judicial nominations. The project is an offshoot of the Council for National Policy, a highly secretive organization of conservative leaders and donors.

The working group, led by Heritage Foundation President Edwin J. Feulner, produced a draft that has been circulating among conservatives for months.

Organizers said the document -- which will be posted Wednesday on a new Web site,, for people to read and sign -- was timed to coincide with Thursday's start of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

"It's a compass for every single issue, whether it's social, economic or national defense conservatives. It's meant to guide you,'' said L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center in Alexandria, which monitors perceived liberal media bias.

It was Bozell's uncle, Buckley -- founder of the conservative magazine National Review -- who was instrumental in the original Sharon Statement, and his father, L. Brent Bozell, was a signer. The younger Bozell said it was "humbling" that the Mount Vernon document "will reach millions of people" through the Internet, television and talk radio, while his father and uncle were "some guys who sat around and drank bourbon and smoked cigarettes and had lofty thoughts."

"It was just rudimentary, bubble-gum technology," Bozell said.

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