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‘Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Country to Save!’

ALEXANDRIA, VA. — Outside of the Collingwood Library and Museum, a stately home a few miles down the highway from Washington, D.C. — and a few miles north of Mount Vernon — dozens of conservative activists gathered to witness the introduction and signing of the Mount Vernon Statement. On the country road up to the house, cars bearing “Bob McDonnell 2009″ and “Question Al Gore’s Authority” bumper stickers jostled for spaces along grimy snow banks. The cars emptied out and their occupants strolled up to the estate ready to hear some of the movement’s longtime leaders roll out a one-page “statement for the 21st century” of conservative values.

National Tax Limitation Committee President Lew Uhler Poses with the Mount Vernon Statement and George Washington impersonator James Manship
National Tax Limitation Committee President Lew Uhler Poses with the Mount Vernon Statement and George Washington impersonator James Manship

National Tax Limitation Committee President Lew Uhler Poses with the Mount Vernon Statement and George Washington impersonator James Manship (Photo by David Weigel)

The ceremony was moved into a small building set apart from the main house. Inside, a George Washington impersonator, James Manship, made the rounds as conservative activists shook hands and caught up with one another. They included Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice, Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots and Robert Bluey of the Heritage Foundation. In the press section sat R. Emmett Tyrrell, editor of the American Spectator, John Fund, political columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and Mark Tapscott, opinion editor of the Washington Examiner. I asked Tyrrell what, if anything, was new or politically impactful about this statement.

“We’ve said this for 50 years, and we’re saying it again.” said Tyrrell. “We don’t have to update anything!”

Shortly after 2:30, the signatories of the statement — including former Attorney General Ed Meese, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist, the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins – lined up on a stage alongside a blown-up version of the statement. Meese rhapsodised about how far the movement had come since the 1960 Sharon Statement crafted by some of the same people in the room today — it now included, he said, “people of various minority groups.”

“If he were here, Ronald Reagan would be among first to sign the Mount Vernon statement,” said Meese. “Indeed, Ronald Reagan named the framers or the founding fathers more than his nine predecessors combined.”

Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America led the audience in a prayer, asking God to “equip us and guide us as we strive to advance constitutional principles.” And the ceremony kept that high level of pomp. Colin Hanna, the honey-voiced president of Let Freedom Ring, lectured the crowd on the history of conservative mission statements, crediting William F. Buckley with the most eloquent ones.

“Of course,” said Hanna, “William F. Buckley used Latin as a conversational language!”

Hanna read through the Sharon statement and argued that it remained relevant, if one replaced key words. “Communism — or today we would substitute the word ‘terrorism’ — must be defeated, not simply contained.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online offered up more links between this “historic” event and the conservatives of the past. “Not just here today, but around the nation, we’re seeing people do what Bill Buckley did in that first issue of National Review.” Lopez waved a facsimile of the issue. “I had to do show and tell. We have them around the office.”

Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner was given the task of reading out the statement, word for word. As he did so, Manship — the George Washington impersonator — nodded at key phrases like “tyrants and despots everywhere.”

“We must print out the statement’s text on our journals, our magazines and our blog posts,” said Fuelner. “We must distribute the video of today’s ceremony. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a country to save!”

Before attendees signed the document under Manship/Washington’s watchful eye, they got a special live message from radio host and author Mark Levin, who appeared on a large projection screen over the stage.

“I want to thank the media,” said Levin. “I see them all against the wall there. We’re saving or creating a nation, here.”

Levin lectured the room briefly on the importance of fighting “pseudo-conservatives” and the greatness of Ed Meese, whom Levin said respected the Constitution, “unlike the current attorney general, who never mentions the Constitution.” To the “pseudo-conservatives” he issued a warning: “It’s our turn. We’ve had about enough of you. We’re going to take you on and it’s time to defeat you.”

When Levin wrapped, the attendees lined up to sign the document, then hobnobbed with each other and a small group of reporters. Some hung around to take photos with the blown-up statement — a few grabbed Manship/Washington to pose with them.

“Whoever did this needs to do some more research,” said Manship/Washington, pointing at the giant paper sharing the photo with him. “The kerning’s too close.”

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