WHILE THE president and a few advisers are still up on the mountain, it's a moment for the rest of the country as well to think, hard, about the energy enterprise ahead. The president can't create gasoline. He can't end the gasoline lines and lower prices and turn the calendar back to last year. To blame the harassments and anxieties of the past two months on Mr. Cater, or the Energy Department, or congress, is a waste of time. This country is at its best when its government and its people join in the kind of common endeavor that everybody understands and that seems to represent basic common use.
Common sense, at this point, urgently recommends an eclectic policy - the policy of trying everything that gives any reasonable promise of working. It means setting aside at last the endless doctrinal disputes that have entagled and immobilized American decisions on energy throughout this decase, beginning long before Mr. Carter came to Washington. Trying everything that promises to work means beginning immediately to build synthetic fuel plants on an industrial scale, to produce oil and gas from coal. It simultaneously means accelerated public financing of solar energy and homeowners who want to try susnshine. It means wider offshore drilling for oil, and uninterrupted construction of nuclear reactors. It means, above all, steady public encouragement of conservation. The debate over the relative merits of these various choices has gone on long enough, and become less and less useful. All of them need to be exploited, together, with as much money and imagination as Americans can draw to them.
The sense of danger is lacking from the present public consideration of energy policy, but the danger is real and it goes far beyond the limited inconvenience of the gas lines. The lines result from the chaos in Iran, which has dropped oil production there by one-third. What if the chaos spreads and, as happened last winter, it cuts off the other two-thirds? The economic futures not only of the United States but also of all the industrial democracies are now balanced perilously on the good will and good luck of one small feudal monarchy, Saudi Arabia, that is itself none too secure.
Strategy for energy now reaches far beyond the customary considerations of economics and engineering. The purpose of policy now is specifically to preserve the country's capacity to protect the welfare of its people and the prosperity of its friends abroad.