Jimmy Carter was the very image of America's malaise in the pre-Reagan 1970s. He was a picture not only of American defeat but, much worse, the acceptance of it. Those days may seem like only a bad dream now, for his wasn't the right approach even then -- the embrace of scarcity as something akin to secular sainthood.
How about Peak Oil? Remember it? That was the theory that the whole world was running out of petroleum. Fossil fuels were going the way of the dinosaurs that left them, and it was time to return to the simpler days before the internal combustion engine. For years the concept of Peak Oil was all the rage among intellectuals and fuzzy thinkers who wanted to be.
There was just one factor this legion of doomsayers didn't take into consideration: the ingenuity and innovation, not to say sheer stubborn cussedness of American entrepreneurs like George Mitchell, who have always come along to revolutionize the American economy when it most needed revolutionizing. Whether the revolutionary of the moment was Andrew Carnegie in steel, John D. Rockefeller in oil, or Thomas Alva Edison in everything.
Oh, yes, there was also J.P. Morgan in finance, who acted as a kind of private Federal Reserve System before there was a Federal Reserve System -- and in some respects did a much better job of it than the Fed does now.
And don't forget Henry Ford, who put the world on wheels before turning into a lonely old misanthrope and crank. If only one could understand Henry Ford, he'd understand the whole American ethos, but who can understand Henry Ford to this day?
Just name your favorite inventor-tycoon (Steve Jobs? Bill Gates?) and ask if government could do as well at innovation. Maybe it could, and has, but only in extremis, and then only by harnessing the vision of individual geniuses -- like Enrico Fermi and J. Robert Oppenheimer for the Manhattan Project.
Or aren't we allowed to recognize the world-changing contributions of single, unique individuals any more in this politically correct day? Or must they all be as ignored as George Phydias Mitchell in his? Their manifest contributions to American power, sometimes literally, and to the world's prosperity in general may now be dismissed with only a snappy comeback. ("You didn't build that!")
Meanwhile the silent revolution goes on. And the world is taking notice. South Africa's state oil company, Sasol, is building a sprawling 3,034-acre complex near Lake Charles, La. (estimated cost: up to $21 billion) to handle the deluge of fracked natural gas soon to arrive, which will need to be turned into fuel, plastics, paint, packaging....
Call it Qatar on the Gulf -- not the Persian Gulf this time but the Gulf of Mexico. And it could amount to the single largest construction project on these shores ever financed by foreign capital. But it's scarcely exceptional. Terminals to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) are going up all around the North American continent.
The mammoth natural-gas deal that Russia and still Communist China announced to much fanfare not long ago is one between two regimes that have every reason to be wary of one another, and that may turn on each other soon enough, as they have before.
But this country can offer a stable, continuing and abundant supply of natural gas to our allies in both Europe and Asia. The drilling process that George Mitchell bequeathed to all of us is changing not just the nation's and the world's economy but its geopolitical realities. The days when oil powers like Russia can bully their neighbors (like Ukraine) may be numbered.
Despite the naysayers, America is rising again. On the strength of what has always made America great -- our ideas. And the kind of Americans willing to stake their all on them.
Of course, there will be dark days ahead as well as bright ones, but never sell America short. Yes, there may be lulls between our advances, and bouts of defeatism when our leaders lose hope and vision, but don't fool yourself -- or others. This country isn't in decline. It's still rising.