IT WILL TAKE a while to get used to the abrupt departure of 1976. No more bicentennial, for one thing. Our own guess is theat if you want really good fireworks in 1977, you'll have to roll your own - which is probably illegal, and certainly imprudent. For another thing, there won't be any presidential primaries to enliven those grey, damp days of early spring. While 1976 wasn't entirely satisfactory in every respect, it had its moments.
Later this month, a new administration takes office. Jimmy Carter has assured the nation that, after the inaugural parade has passed, the only sound to be heard from the White House will be the low hum of totally efficient management. Systems analysis will foresee all questions and provide each with its most cost-effective answer. It sounds serene, but a bit dull. Mr. Carter himself proposes to devote much of his attention to government reorganization - a worthy endeavor but not what you'd call much of a spectator sport. The most reassuring thing about this prospect is the absolute certainty that things will not work out as Mr. Carter anticipates. The course of history leaves a good deal to be desired on moral grounds, but it generally turns out to be a lot more interesting than any responsible politican ever intends. Perfection, after all, is not the politician's destiny.
The past year had its bleak spots, but its troubles were familiar and manageable ones. It was the year of return from that long, frightening time in which it seemed that this great disorderly experiment of a nation had somehow run off its tracks altogether. In that time it repeatedly seemed as if some invisible element, essential to a coherent national life, had mysteriously evaported. There was 1972, the year of the most scnadalously corrupted national election in our history. Then in 1973, in the midst of high prosperity, there was the unsettling appearance of sudden shortages of a hundred common items from the stores' shelves; at the year's end came the oil-price increases that rattled the rivets of the economy. Next we had 1974, the year of the forced resignation of a President and a Vice President, amidst a dire inflation. In 1975 teh economy plunged into the deepest recession since the afflicted 1930s, causing even the experts to ask whether the basic principles of economic management had not somehow been mysteriously undermined through this succession of strange events.
In that respect, 1976 was a year of damage control - or, as they say in school board election campaigns, a return to basics. The country took stock of the casualites: a good deal of the gilt knocked off the presidential seal and, around the country, a great many people looking for jobs. Most Americans are, in fact, a little less rich than they were three years ago. But over the past year, Americans have worked out rational and satisfactory explanations of what's gone wrong, and that exercise has pointed them toward remedies. The remedies aren't simple but, if vigorously pursued, they will probably work. Last year's presidential election, for example, was the first to be carried out under spending controls.
In 1976 some of the craziness and hysteria went out of American life - and good riddance. That atmosphere turned out to be neither creative nor ennobling. For the coming year the main public business is not exciting new goals but the pursuit of the old ones - getting everybody back to work, teaching children how to read, building houses for a growing population, keeping the peace. While 1977 may not be quite as sedate as Mr. Carter has programmed it, the country has abandoned its temporary infatuation with perpetual emergency as a way of life. That, no doubt, is why Mr. Carter beat the more conventional campaigners in the Democratic primaries; he promised stability rather than still another New America.
So here we are, on a cold winter morning that is, by ancient convention, the beginning of anotehr calendar. 1976 was an instructive year, and we weren't in any rush to see it end. On the other hand, 1977 has not yet committed any offenses, and it's necessary to be fair in these matters. We're in favor of trying 1977 for a while, with an open mind, to see how it works out. We hope it works out happily for you.