American Optimism and Willpower Can See Us Through Challenges

Wednesday, 01 Dec 2010 11:31 AM

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I suppose it is to be expected that the Great Recession should be accompanied by a sweeping national pessimism in which our purported leaders and commentators express historic despair, while the people and corporations mope about, convinced that the sun will not come up tomorrow.

Such an intensity of self-loathing and lack of confidence has not been heard since the French contemplated their disgraced future in June 1940 when they annihilated their nation, and the great light that was France, by surrendering to the Germans.

But even that French despair ended — and it started to clear when Gen. de Gaulle found himself in London in June 1940, unknown, with no resources, no respect, but an uncontainable will to rally Frenchmen to the majestic task of saving France from her self-imposed infamy.

In his memoires, de Gaulle describes the moment. In a long paragraph, he listed everything that blocked his objectives.

He concluded: "As for me, with a hill like that to climb, I was starting from scratch. Not the shadow of a force or of an organization at my side. In France, no following and no reputation. Abroad, neither credit nor standing. But this very destitution showed me my line of conduct. It was by adopting without compromise the cause of national recovery that I could acquire authority. ... In short, limited and alone though I was, and precisely because I was so, I had to climb to the heights and never then come down. The first thing to do was to hoist the colours."

And so he did. Over the next four years, he organized violent opposition to the Nazis from equatorial, west and north Africa to metropolitan France. And he redeemed French honor.

The intangible, extraordinary, immeasurable power of the will of just one human can become a world force to be reckoned with. The exercise of human will defies and baffles historians, economists, and experts of all sorts as they attempt to predict the path of nations and the unfolding of history.

America has been in a two-year funk — which is not surprising, as nary a national leader or news outlet has encouraged us to spit in the eye of fate and cheerfully grab the future with both fists.

Good heavens, I am currently fighting a dose of stomach cancer — and I'm more cheerful and hopeful than healthy, bright young college grads laid low by a shortage of great jobs.

It is time for America to get over its funk and stop listening to alleged experts (who make their fortunes coming up with novel theories of national catastrophe).

America has become a great nation because we have been an optimistic people who insist on both success and liberty. If you can't visualize success, you are unlikely to gain it.

America's can-do spirit has been the wonder of the ages. It has raised us from a handful of farmers to the colossus of the planet.

And if we can regain that spirit and marshal our willpower, there is not a reason in the world that the 21st century will not be the American century — just as the 20th century was.

The only real economic problems we have are that our real estate is not worth quite as much as most of us paid for it, and as a country, we have borrowed too much money. The first problem will naturally work itself out over the next few years (and yes, some of us will take some painful blows from that process — but that is no reason to roll up into the fetal position. We can take what comes).

And if we can marshal a fraction of the willpower and common sense we have historically exercised as both a government and a nation, we can rationally reduce our debt to a serviceable level within less than a decade.

And by the way, before everyone decides that China has us beat, keep in mind our GDP is larger than the next three combined: China's, Japan's, and Germany's — with a billion left over for walk-around money.

We lead in almost all technologies. As Joe Scarborough pointed out a few weeks ago, we have most of the top universities in the world and most of the Nobel prizes. We also have the youngest population of developed nations.

China's one-child policy is going to leave them with an aging population just as America, later in the century will hit 400 million — mostly vigorous young people.

China has no rule of law, a banking system that hides credit and debit reality and a political system that allows for little expression from the people. It has 800 million peasants who want more and are not getting it fast enough. The Chinese leaders live in constant fear that if their growth slips below 7.5 percent for long, they will have rebellion.

We have 200 years of democracy and capitalism. We can weather all storms. Let's see if the Chinese can weather the many storms that will hit them in the next few decades. I wouldn't trade our position for the Chinese.

But it is time for us to end our sad sack impersonation. If one man, de Gaulle, can resurrect a disgraced and defeated nation with nothing but his personal willpower — just think what 300 million willful, optimistic Americans can do to get us out of our rut in 2011.

This isn't my Christmas column. But if it were, I would end it with the reminder: Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Merry post-Thanksgiving Day.


Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington. E-mail him at TonyBlankley@gmail.com.

© Creators Syndicate Inc.

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