There are a few other things I would like to say about the Mount Vernon Statement. It doesn’t really deserve as much attention as I and many others have been giving it, but the reactions to it do make clear how irrelevant and flawed it is as an effort to define a conservative consensus. Indeed, the different reactions to it show how such a consensus has long since ceased to exist, and it isn’t going to be cobbled together again by rehashing old slogans. Everyone who calls himself a conservative can use many of the same words and forms, but there is remarkably little agreement about their meaning and their policy implications. While I ridiculed the constitutionalist pretensions of all those signatories who enabled and supported any number of unconstitutional Bush-era measures in the name of national security, Michelle Malkin made clear that she has no time for some of the signatories of the statement because they are too committed to constitutional principles, which is to say that some of them are no longer interested in celebrating every activity of the national security state. The statement seems meaningless to me, and it seems tainted to her, and I have not seen many people on the right respond favorably to it.
Dorothy Rabinowitz’s op-ed on Sarah Palin in today’s print edition of The Wall Street Journal gives us another example of why it is very difficult to sustain a working coalition of actual constitutionalists, such as Rand Paul, and mainstream conservatives. While criticizing Palin’s other flaws, Rabinowitz focuses on her endorsement of Paul in the Kentucky Senate race. Rabinowitz believes that “nothing she has done has been worthier of notice than her endorsement of Rand Paul,” which Rabinowitz naturally regards as a horrible error. This reminds us that mainstream conservatives are willing to use small-government, constitutionalist, anti-tax and Tea Party activists to fuel their return to power, but they are not interested in actually having one of them serving in office and applying his constitutionalist views to all areas of policy. As far as Rabinowitz is concerned, Palin has erred because she forgot that national security is the one area where conservatives cannot meaningfully disagree and still be accepted. Even though Palin is perfectly willing to echo every hawkish and authoritarian view she is fed, she made the mistake of thinking that she was permitted to build alliances with people who actually believe in limited government and upholding the Constitution when they happen to agree with her for the moment on fiscal and economic questions.
The theoretical principles that can supposedly unite conservatives do no such thing, because as far as actual constitutionalists are concerned “limited government” and the “rule of law” are just phrases for national security conservatives and not much more than that. In the eyes of national security conservatives, actual constitutionalists are practically traitors. This is not a gap that can be bridged by shouting, “Constitution!” in a loud voice. Many of us regard them as enemies and subverters of the Constitution, and they usually regard us as unpatriotic fifth columnists. What possibility of a consensus between such groups can there realistically be?