Thursday, September 08, 2005

National Greatness

The Moose ponders national greatness.

The Moose identified with a loosely defined school of conservatism called "national greatness." It rejected the anti-government animus of the right and sought leadership that would promote civic engagement, democratic internationalism and an energetic federal role that would promote great projects. Essentially, this variant of conservatism (which admittedly had precious few adherents and was only loosely defined) was the ideological heir of the tradition of Hamilton, Lincoln and T.R.

Alas, the national greatness movement split over the question of the Presidency of George W. Bush. Some on the right argued that the post-9/11 Bush was worthy of a national greatness leader - that his assertive military response was sufficient. Others, (well, the Moose) maintained that he could not advance a Coolidge domestic program and claim that he was the modern embodiment of T.R. In many ways, W is the anti-national greatness President who has divided the country while asking sacrifice only from the troops and has showered riches on the rich.

Once again we have witnessed in the past week how this President has failed the "national greatness" test. Not only will W. not achieve greatness, mediocrity is hardly within his reach. That is why it is particularly timely that the New Republic has published a significant piece by Larry Kaplan on the question of Bush and national greatness. Kaplan writes,

"Bush may employ high-minded rhetoric about America's purpose. But his rhetoric entails no obligation to act. The counterexample of Franklin Roosevelt has become a favorite cliche among the president's critics. And for good reason. If Bush has, in some respects, followed in the footsteps of FDR abroad, he has governed more like Warren Harding here at home."

Kaplan makes this insightful critique of those who deny a link between greatness abroad and at home,

"`The fact is, greatness at home does not require greatness abroad, but greatness abroad does require greatness, or at least some level of exertion, at home...

"Alas, Bush still acts as though national life can somehow be compartmentalized, with a nation of couch potatoes footing the bill for ambitious foreign and military policies. Thus has the White House invited Americans to indulge in the conceit that distant wars obviate the need for broad sacrifice or the mobilization of national power. Unfortunately, the wider scope of action permitted by waging war on the cheap is illusory. The whole business reflects the administration's insistence on concealing the costs of a "hard" foreign policy from what members of the Bush team presume, with some reason, to be a "soft" American public. It was precisely this dilemma that obliged the president and his chief associates to offer assurances that any military action in Iraq would be quick and painless. Now that every American recognizes the costs, Bush has been reduced to pleading for "more sacrifice and continued resolve," as he did last week in his radio address. The time for such a request was four years ago. But it's never too late to heed."

While W. has clearly not met the standard of a national greatness leader, is the concept itself flawed? Can national greatness find a home in the progressive center? Can a new type of national unity politics emerge that stresses civic engagement through national service, the achievement of great national goals such as energy independence and economic justice and the international promotion of democratic ideals ?

While the politics of polarization prevail at the moment, tomorrow may belong to the leaders who promote a progressive, unifying variant of national greatness. This politics will combine aspects of the right and the left to bring Americans together to put the country back on track.

As the Moose has previously indicated, even one of the foremost former partisan warriors, Newt Gingrich realizes that the political zeigeist may be soon shifting. He is working with Hillary and is deeply critical of the Administration's handling of Iraq and Katrina. Will other politicians catch on or will they continue to view politics through their rear view mirror?

A prominent national greatness advocate, David Brooks, wrote in Sunday's New York Times,

"Reaganite conservatism was the response to the pessimism and feebleness of the 1970's. Maybe this time there will be a progressive resurgence. Maybe we are entering an age of hardheaded law and order. (Rudy Giuliani, an unlikely G.O.P. nominee a few months ago, could now win in a walk.) Maybe there will be call for McCainist patriotism and nonpartisan independence. All we can be sure of is that the political culture is about to undergo some big change.

"We're not really at a tipping point as much as a bursting point. People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore."

The era of incompetent big government plutocratic conservatism is over. Will a progressive variant of national greatness take its place?
-- Posted at 9:37 AM | Link to this post | Email this post