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FreeCons and critics debate the future of the American Right
When the Freedom Conservatism Statement of Principles debuted on the morning of July 13, it bore the signatures of 83 leaders from across the conservative movement. By mid-afternoon, thousands of Americans has read the statement at FreedomConservatism.org, on social media, or in newspapers that republished the statement.
By the next day, tens of thousands had read the statement. By the end of the week, it was hundreds of thousands.
What explains such explosive growth? One reason is that we keep adding prominent conservatives to the signatory list, which now surpasses 200. As they publicly declare themselves FreeCons, their fans and followers are visiting our site to learn more.
Another reason is that prominent nationalists have attacked Freedom Conservatism in news articles, columns, interviews, and social-media posts. Our announcement has begun a robust debate about the past, present, and future of American Right — which is precisely what we think is needed.
Too hot for Heritage?
In Politico, for example, columnist Michael Schaffer covered the debut of Freedom Conservatism in July, describing its signatories as an “A-list group of conservative writers, scholars and activists.”
Nearly two months later, the Heritage Foundation demanded that two of its scholars remove their names from the statement. In a follow-up column, Schaffer highlighted Heritage’s “dramatically changing party line and the multiple abrupt departures of dissenting staffers and a theatrical shunning of erstwhile allies [that] lends a Politburo vibe to the whole atmosphere.”
For example, at the time the FreeCon project debuted, signatory Richard Reinsch was director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at Heritage but listed another affiliation, senior writer at Law & Liberty, on the statement.
Proof in the Pudding
In a recent feature story, Deseret News reporter Brigham Tomco observed that “some of the starkest differences” between FreeCons and NatCons “are found on the issues of debt and immigration.” While the FreeCon statement describes “the skyrocketing national debt” as an “existential threat to the future prosperity, liberty, and happiness of Americans,” the NatCon statement makes no mention of the issue.
As for immigration, the FreeCon document states that “immigration is a principal driver of American prosperity and achievement” while also arguing that the United States should administer a border policy “built on the rule of law.” The NatCon statement calls for more restrictive immigration policies “up to and including a complete moratorium,” as Tomco put it.
Which offers a more compelling vision for the American Right?
“I would just say the proof is in the pudding,” conservative historian Matt Continetti told Tomco.
“All the places where the right has been most successful have been places where the right acted in line within the tradition of freedom, and the idea of limited constitutional government, and with the idea that experts have no claim to superior knowledge about the economy or anything else.”
Dan Mitchell, FreeCon signatory and chairman of the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, believes NatCons are making a grave mistake by ruling out entitlement reform. “I don’t know whether to characterize that as head-in-the-sand thinking or kick-the-can-down-the-road thinking,” he wrote, “but it’s a recipe for giant future tax increases.”
The Washington Policy Center’s Todd Myers spoke on a recent podcast about his decision to sign the FreeCon statement. The fundamental difference between the Left and Right, Myers argued, has always been “where you place your faith.” Is it in “allowing politicians to determine what is best for society, or do you put your faith in the individual and their God-given right to choose their best life?”
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