Continuity in 1997

Article excerpt

There is one basic story in journalism and it has two parts: how things change and do not change. A higher premium is put on on the former, change, than on the latter, continuity. This can lead to hype or to imagining change where there is none, and to a distortion of what is going on.

The lead political story in 1996, the re-election of President Clinton and the Republican House and Senate, was a continuity story. Mr. Clinton's Cabinet reshuffle largely keeps his policy team either intact or in the hands of former number twos. No one has yet spotted signs of major new Clinton initiatives. Balancing the budget, adjusting Social Security's long-range outlook, recalibrating the cost-of-living index, re-evaluating the impact and wisdom of recent welfare reforms - important but ongoing topics - will be on the table. But meaningful campaign reform likely will not.

The past week's news about the TV rating system, like the V-chip that preceded it, is but another encounter in the attempt to make the public media, movies as well as television, contribute something constructive rather than damaging to society. The battle over children's thinking goes back at least to Socrates. Our household of television viewers has found it easier to switch off violent or inane stuff than to avoid the dumbing down of the English language that is tolerated on the home screen. The lapse in grammar and usage has recently been traced to the less demanding textbooks used in classrooms over the past couple of decades. One wouldn't shorten the 100-yard dash to 97 yards to improve running scores. So why lower standards for verbal performance? Driving domestic politics are the long, slow, but steady gains in the economy. Improvement in the equities market, a steady and gently strengthening dollar, an ongoing shift to technology in all industries, the underwriting of the higher education industry through student debt, low borrowing rates, and low inflation have produced a rather benign state of domestic affairs at the end of 1996. …


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