In a 1997 Weekly Standard cover-story "manifesto" entitled "A Return to National Greatness," [columnist David] Brooks decried limited-government conservatives "besotted with localism, local communities, and the devolution of power" and insisted that "energetic government is good for its own sake."That kind of talk is more typical of the self-styled progressives, without the conceit that The Best and the Brightest are championing Improvements For The Greater Good. By their fruits, though, shall we know the National Greatness enthusiasts.
"Wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine," he and co-author Bill Kristol (editor of The Weekly Standard, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner) argued later that year in The Wall Street Journal. Instead, Americans needed grand federal crusades to pull them away from private, parochial concerns and invest their lives with meaning.
Compulsory national service, a Mars mission and "a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of national strength and moral assertiveness abroad" were among the specific causes championed by NGCers. But "it almost doesn't matter what great task government sets for itself," Brooks wrote, so long as it's busy dragooning us into causes greater than ourselves.
If you seek a monument to National Greatness Conservatism, look around you. After a decade-plus of bloody, fruitless wars and budget-busting "energetic government" for its own sake, there's not much to be cheerful about.In fact, if both major parties are pushing Grand Constructions, it might make sense to vote for the party that promises you stuff. Cell phones! Fast trains! Free health care! Longer vacations! The point of Conservatism is to present the tragic vision: these Grand Constructions often come with unanticipated and unintended consequences.