If you are easily entertained -- if you are the sort of person who sees drama in the sight of, say, a small mailman delivering a big package -- we are ending 12 months of golden memories. My favorite is of Gary Hart describing how, if a Czech airliner penetrated U.S. airspace heading for the air-defense center in Colorado Springs, he would order interceptors to peek in the windows to see whether the passengers were wearing uniforms. But among the other fascinating features of these 12 months have been things left unsaid, or said and then soon abandoned.
Twelve months ago, seven Democrats (Jesse Jackson had not yet en can you name the seven?) were elbowing one another and stepping on each other's insteps in the struggle to see who would break his lance against Ronald Reagan. A presidential commission -- announcing a crisis, of course -- had all the candidates rattling on about one issue. What was it? Education, the decline and fall thereof. But that issue was worn out by Thanksgiving, and little has been heard about it since, for two reasons.
First, saturation journalism, especially on television, quickly wears out most issues, or at least the public's interest in them. Some issues are more durable than others. It took two weeks to beat into a shapeless pulp the Good-Lord-(If-You-Will-Pardon-the-Expression)-Religion-and Politics-Are-Getting-Tangled-Up-In-This-Nation-Begun-By-Pilgrims issue.
But another reason the education issue withered is that the electorate is smarter than it was even a decade ago. It knows that education always has been, is today, should be, and will for the foreseeable future remain, primarily the responsibility of state and local governments, and will be influenced only marginally by federal decisions.
The same is true of another issue that, you may have noticed, is no longer noticeable as a national issue. Last year, in one out of every five households, someone suffered an assault, burglary, larceny, rape or robbery. Few of the criminals involved were or will be caught, and fewer will be prosecuted, and fewer still will be convicted. In California, where one-tenth of the electorate lives (lives anxiously, evidently), a reliable poll reveals that crime is now the foremost concern. Yet crime has not been an issue in the presidential campaign.
One reason is that crime is declining. For the first time in 20 years, the crime rate has declined in two consecutive years. That fact has, naturally, caused the administration to puff out its chest and point with pride. Never mind that, as conservatives know, and if they were out of office would be quick to proclaim, the decline has little to do with government action at any level and almost nothing to do with federal action. It has a lot to do with demography. There is a decline in the crime rate because there is, at the moment, a decline in the number of young men between the ages of 16 and 25.
The phrase "demography is destiny" contains much truth, including the conservative truth that social dynamics often govern life more than government does. But that truth sometimes limits the ability to brag.
However, the main reason crime is not an issue is not that the crime rate has changed. It is that the electorate has changed. It recognizes that federal policy is peripheral to the problem.
Like the issues that are not, as November nears, issues, another interesting aspect of this election is a regional bonanza that is not sure to materalize. If, as seems likely, Republicans retain control of the Senate, that will be the worst defeat for the South since the Army of the Potomac completed the siege of Petersburg.
If Democrats recapture the Senate, these southerners would acquire (in some cases re-acquire) committee chairmanships: Mississippi's John Stennis, Appropriations; Louisiana's Russell Long, Finance; Georgia's Sam Nunn, Armed Services; Florida's Lawton Chiles, Budget; South Carolina's Fritz Hollings, Commerce; Louisiana's J. Bennett Johnston, Energy; Texas' Lloyd Bentsen, Environment and Public Works.
The only chairmanships the South would lose are those held by Republicans Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (Judiciary) and Jesse Helms of North Carolina (Agriculture). Helms' reelection is in doubt in any case. If you count Kentucky as part of the South, Democratic capture of the Senate would keep the Agriculture chairmanship in the region, with Kentucky's Walter Huddleston. But correct thinkers do not count Kentucky as part of the South, that state having behaved reasonably well in those days when Lincoln said he hoped to have God on his side but had to have Kentucky.