Mickey Edwards

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Mickey Edwards is Director of the Constitution Project, Vice President of the Aspen Institute teaching a course for elected officials, and a faculty member at George Washington University. He focuses on conservative renewal. After leaving Congress, he was on the faculty at Harvard University and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University.

From 1977 to 1993, he was in U.S. House of Representatives, (R-Oklahoma) and Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee (1989-1993). He was a founder of the Heritage Foundation, national chairman of the American Conservative Union, and chaired the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for five years.

Rush Limbaugh calls him a Republican-in-name-only (RINO), for saying
I found often that my constituents -- who are busy living their own lives, doing the best they can for their families and their careers -- didn't have all the information that was available to me or to other members of Congress or to the president. Uhhhh, and some of what they got they were getting, uhh, from really deep intellectual sources like Wikipedia or Rush Limbaugh. You have to, on important matters, sometimes you have to say, "I listened to my constituents. I took them seriously. They're just wrong."[1]
Edwards had observed
The problem here is that those who are whining the loudest, whether it's a nutcase Senator or a callous talk show ratings-chaser, are, at bottom, people who apparently don't really buy into America. They claim to be patriotic - that is, to love their country - but they seem not to really understand what, exactly, America is, or what it stands for, or what "to be American" really means. America is not 50 chunks of land, lakes, fly fishermen and football teams; it's an idea, a concept, a commitment to, well, "truth, justice, and the American way." And that's why we have courts, not show trials and not summary judgments. It's not because we love terrorists, it's because we hate them and we are going to subject them to the thing they most fear--justice, democracy, the rules of a free society. [2]


The true father of uniquely American conservatism, in his opinion, is Barry Goldwater. It emphasized "free enterprise", but not necessarily corporate profit. While he personally disliked some of the new lifestyles of the 1960s and 1970s, he did not see his role as forcing his moral choices on others. His ideals
...grounded not prescriptions of social orders and classes or on a specific religious faith, but rather on religious diversity and holding officeholders responsible to the people.[3]
In defining the issue, he referred to a 2004 speech by Sarah Bramwell, a conservative writer. [4] Bramwell said that the basic American conservative motivations had been
Modern American conservatism began in an effort to do two things: defeat Communism and roll back creeping socialism. A half century later, these goals are no longer relevant. The first was obviated by our success, the latter by our failure. So what is left of conservatism?
Explaining why he did not attend CPAC in 2010,
...truth be told, most of the folks there wouldn't want me there. They wouldn't think I'm a conservative; many wouldn't think Barry Goldwater was a conservative; many, had this been three decades ago, might have been seeking a "true" conservative to run against Ronald Reagan. I don't begrudge these activists their views and they are entitled to use the term "conservative" to describe themselves if they so choose. But the views many of them profess have little in common with the distinctly American kind of conservatism that gave birth to CPAC and the modern American conservative movement. Instead, what many of today's self-proclaimed "conservatives" proclaim is an ideology borrowed from what Donald Rumsfeld famously dismissed as "old Europe." [5]
Edwards disagreed, however, that his kind of conservativism is derived from Europe; he sees European conservatism as emphasizing state power.
Today there are few things that set a "conservatives'" teeth on edge more than a defense of "civil liberties;" yet that is what American conservatism was all about--protecting the liberties of the people. It was a system designed to protect the people from an over-reaching government, not to protect the government from the people. American constitutionalism was a historical high-point in recognizing individual worth. Stop at CPAC today and you will find rooms full of ardent, zealous, fervent young men and women who believe the government should be allowed to torture (we condemned people at Nuremberg for doing that), who believe the government should be able to lock people up without charges and hold them indefinitely (something Henry VIII agreed was a proper exercise of government authority). Who believe the government should be able to read a citizen's mail and listen in on a citizen's phone calls, all without a warrant (the Constitution of course prohibits searches without a warrant, but nobody cares less about the Constitution than some of today's ersatz conservatives).

I'm not at CPAC because I believe in America. I believe in liberty. I believe that governments should be held in check. I believe people matter. I believe in the flag not because of its shape or color but because of the principles it stands for--the principles in the Constitution, the principles repeated and underlined and highlighted and boldfaced and italicized in the Bill of Rights. The George W. whose presidency and precedents I admire was the first president, not the 43d. It is James Madison I admire, not John Yoo. Thomas Paine, not Glenn Beck. Jefferson, not Limbaugh.

Ronald Reagan would not have been welcome at today's CPAC or a tea party rally, but he would not have wanted to be there, either. Neither do I.

Culture wars

Bramwell, in her 2004 speech cited by Edwards, continued,

Well, since the 1960s, the conservative movement took on a third goal, namely winning the culture wars. By culture wars, I mean everything from preserving traditional morality, to passing on the Western inheritance, to preserving a distinctly American common culture, to resisting the threat posed by biotechnology to human nature itself. To win these wars, conservatives must make the case against such things as gay marriage, stem-cell research, open borders, and our hideous suburban sprawl. All these battles are really part of the same war—a war, unfortunately, that we seem determined to lose. [4]

As an example of how religious conservatives has altered the more general movement, Edwards mentions that the 1973 founding statement of the Heritage Foundation cited four values: "free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom and a strong national defense." Neither the 1960 Sharon Statement nor the 1964 mission statement of the American Conservative Union mentions "traditional" or "social" issues. The Heritage Foundation, however, added "traditional American values" in 1993.[6]

Power versus Principle

He is among the Republicans that see the party as a victim of its own electoral sense, losing its classic conservative principles in the interest of winning elections. In a discussion with Bill Moyers and Ross Douthat, they observed that while Newt Gingrich had originally tried to return power to Congress, Gingrich began the change by making the Republican majority regard the President as less of the leader of a separate branch of government and more of a "team captain". The effect was to turn Congress, in a non-Parliamentary system, into something closer to a Parliamentary majority party.

In a 2009 op-ed, he wrote that "Loyalty to party undermines the very essence of representative government, which depends on entrusting members of one's community to act in one's stead as an evaluator of legislative policy." Strong political parties, he said, were a fear of James Madison and George Washington, which they saw as harmful in the British system. [7]

Edwards disagreed that conservatism automatically means small government. "It's limited government, but that doesn't necessarily mean small. It means that there are areas that you cannot take government into. There are there are areas where the rights of the people are paramount."[8]

Law and terrorism

He signed the "Beyond Guantanamo" petition, and called for a "truth commission", modeled after the Rockefeller and Church committees that investigated Central Intelligence Agency abuses in the 1970s. [9]

Presenting the recommendation of the American Society of International Law, he called for the U.S. to join the International Criminal Court. He was joined by William H. Taft, IV, Michael Newton, Patricia McGowan Wald and David Tolbert. Some conservatives, such as Ron Paul and Howard Phillips, consider U.S. involvement with the Court to be a dangerous encroachment on national sovereignty. Edwards responded to concerns that the Court might be used for lawfare, saying “The concern that the court could turn out to be politically motivated and oppose U.S. interest and U.S. actions could happen and that’s why it has been important is to observe the court and observe the way the prosecutors have worked. To this point, there is no indication that these ideas are well founded.”[10]

In 2010, in The Atlantic, he reflected on his essays as a student on the subject of "What America Means to Me." Commenting on the Keep America Safe's "Al-Qaeda Seven" campaign, he said, of William Kristol and Liz Cheney, that "They insult generations of American conservatives by having the gall to call themselves conservatives; they are statists, pure and simple, dismissive of law, dismissive of the Constitution, dismissive of freedoms..." "What might Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol say in such an essay? They do not love America; they do not love its values or the very fundamental principles that set it apart. They love power, not freedom (even the neocons, in whose ranks they profess to serve, would be shocked by their disdain for democracy and liberty). When we are in a particularly puckish mood, some of us who are conservatives say that liberals really want to turn America into France. I will say this for Cheney and Kristol: they do not want to turn America into France. They want to turn it into China. "[11]


  1. Rush Limbaugh (7 January 2010), How Washington RINOs See You, The Rush Limbaugh Show
  2. Mickey Edwards (5 January 2010), "The Unbelievers (Part I)", The Atlantic
  3. Mickey Edwards (2008), Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost — and How It Can Find Its Way Back, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195335583, pp. 25-28
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sarah Bramwell (1 May 2004)
  5. Mickey Edwards (18 February 2010), "Why I'm Not at CPAC", The Atlantic
  6. Edwards, Reclaiming Conservatism, p. 44
  7. Mickey Edwards (2 August 2009), "The (political) party is over", Los Angeles Times
  8. Bill Moyers' Journal, National Public Radio, 11 July 2008
  9. Mickey Edwards (16 March 2009), "A truth commission? It's a start", Politico
  10. Josiah Ryan (30 March 2009), "Obama Should Move Towards Greater Engagement with International Criminal Court, Former GOP Congressman Says", Cybercast News Service
  11. "The Unbelievers, Part II", The Atlantic, 10 March 2010