The Buckley Family Feud

Christopher Buckley’s first cousin Brent Bozell III is firing back after Buckley dropped a “cluster bomb” on him and the other signers of the Mount Vernon Statement for trying to redefine conservatism. Buckley’s real problem, says Bozell, is with the conservative movement itself.

Dear Christo,

About that Daily Beast piece, “ Quit Redefining Conservatism." You don’t call, you don’t write. Really, either would have worked. Heck, I’d have accepted a tweet.

Hey, Brent. Just want to let you know I’m dropping a cluster bomb on you. And how’s the fam?

I’d have been civil about it.

Up yours. And everything’s well with you?

Let me get one personal item off my chest before we get to business. What, Christo, is the meaning of this: “Cousin Brent has a razor-sharp mind and a greyhound-quick tongue….” I know you’re trying to be kind, and you know I love you dearly in return, and when’s the next time we’re going to have Old Fashioneds at the club in Camden, but… greyhound? I think greyhound and I think smoky, chugging, coughing, slow, polluted, stuttering, low-rent, can’t-afford-airline-fare Greyhound Bus. Thanks, cuz. Can I propose that maybe next time you write that I have a “Trailways quick tongue”? It’ll make no sense. But it’ll just sound better.

Come to think of it, you don’t much like anything about the conservative movement these days. Next you’ll tell me you voted for Obama.

OK. So you don’t like the Mount Vernon Statement. Let’s dispense with the reasons you give that are purely, well, irrelevant. You don’t like a press release my organization put out about the Mount Vernon Statement. Bully. The Media Research Center is not related to the Mount Vernon Statement. You don’t like the Conservative Political Action Conference. But CPAC and the Mount Vernon Statement are unrelated as well. Come to think of it, you don’t much like anything about the conservative movement these days. Next you’ll tell me you voted for Obama.

You blast the length of the Mount Vernon Statement. It “bears the same relation to the Sharon Statement as Edward Everett’s two-hour-long speech at Gettysburg… bore to the two-minute-long speech by… Abraham Lincoln.” Fact check: Mount Vernon Statement: 537 words. Sharon Statement: 368 words.

And Lord, Christo. Of the hundreds of conservative experts with whom you could have consulted, who was it you chose as “authoritative on the subject” of conservatism? Why, Sam Tanenhaus, the man who so completely misunderstands the conservative movement that in 2009—the year of historic conservative landslides in Virginia, the Republican gubernatorial triumph in New Jersey, and the Massachusetts Miracle—he wrote The Death of Conservatism?

Those are, of course, silly points; it’s my razor-sharp mind gone greyhound. Your serious complaint (or at least your headline writer’s serious complaint) is that conservatives need to “quit redefining conservatism,” and the Mount Vernon Statement is no substitute for the Sharon Statement. Christo, I think I can speak for the 80 organizations represented in that room when I say you misread us completely for the simple reason that we’d agree with you entirely.

It is true that over the years some have tried to redefine conservatism away from the intents of the authors of the Sharon Statement (“compassionate conservatism” is a good example of intellectual upchuck). This is not one of them. In fact, it was the opposite. Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner, who was primarily responsible for the production of the Mount Vernon Statement, said so unequivocally before unveiling the document last week: “Limited government, free enterprise, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense… were the core beliefs of the Sharon Statement in 1960… [a]nd they are the core beliefs of the Mount Vernon Statement…”

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The conservative movement of 2010 is far larger and broader than what Buckley, Bozell, Rusher, Meyer, et al. had to work with in 1960. One could argue that the issues today are far more complex as well. But while the movement has grown to hundreds of organizations, with 42 percent of the population now calling itself “conservative,” do we really enjoy a comprehensive understanding of what being “conservative” means?

The Mount Vernon Statement purposely steers clear of any issue discussion. It focuses on the core principles of the movement and declares unequivocally that those principles are grounded in the Constitution, sadly the most under-read and underappreciated document gathering dust in anyone’s local library today. It expands on that theme and calls on the movement to rally around that glorious old document. Nothing more, nothing less. I think your dad would have felt right at home, had he been there, Christo, I really do.

And some day, over an Old Fashioned, I’ll give you some of my observations, one of them being that perhaps it could be argued that not a soul in that large signing auditorium last Wednesday would have been there but for your father.