"Mom, I need to ask you something," my daughter begins as she buckles her seat belt. Knowing the drive to school lasts only six minutes she must figure the answer will be either concise or embarrassing, so I brace myself for a question about the meaning of a phrase I will undoubtedly have to look up on Urbandictionary.com.
"What's the difference between liberals and conservatives?"
Whew. An easy one. I'm just glad she didn't ask the difference between Democrats and Republicans. That's harder to explain.
"The short answer is, liberals think government can solve a lot our problems, while conservatives believe the government should be limited so that people can solve their own problems."
I offer up a couple of examples of government programs to illustrate the point the stimulus package, "Cash for Clunkers" but there's not much time to elaborate as we arrive in the school drop off lane.
"Well, I'm definitely a conservative," Amy says as she climbs out of the van. "See ya."
I'm amused, but not surprised, that my 12-year-old already has decided on a philosophical label. Knowing Amy, it won't be long before she's asking me the difference between neo-cons and libertarians or the "Old Right" versus the "New Right." Clearly, she was sent to us by God to keep us on our toes.
I'm also not surprised to be having a conversation about political theory with one of my children. Call us geeky (we're OK with that), but we believe it's crucial to teach our children not only our core religious beliefs but also our political beliefs. This is what it means to instill our values, and thus, to do the real work of parenting.
Of course, my "civics lesson in a nutshell" doesn't even begin to articulate the differences between liberals and conservatives in our country today. Beyond the political implications, these labels also describe a general worldview about freedom and responsibility, liberty and license, duty and entitlement.
Lofty stuff for the ride to school, to be sure, but timely nonetheless.
Today in Alexandria, some 80 conservative leaders, including the heads of some of the nation's most influential groups of the right, gather to sign a document that has been more than a year in the making called the Mount Vernon Statement. For those of us seeking to pass on our conservative values and ideals to our children, this new document reinvigorates the old but not outdated concepts behind the founding of our country.
According to Alfred Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator and a member of the Conservative Action Project, the workgroup behind the Mount Vernon Statement, its purpose is to articulate the common core values of all facets of the conservative movement.
Recalling the words of the late Russell Kirk, Regnery says, "The Constitution is the most successful conservative document in the history of the world." Even so, he admits the Constitution can be foreboding to read while the Mount Vernon Statement simply defines a set of guiding principles as old as the Republic that will be relevant years from now just as it is today.
Importantly, the Mount Vernon Statement is not geared to any election or candidate or specific piece of legislation. "We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding," the Statement begins. "Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government. These principles define us as a country and inspire us as a people." (Read the rest at www.themountvernonstatement.com).
Visitors to www.themountvernonstatement.com and the Web sites of the various organizations supporting the project are invited to sign the Statement online and to use it as a blueprint going forward for activism and policymaking.
It's meant to go viral as a creed, of sorts, for modern day conservative believers.
Amen to that.