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Out of My Head

‘New normal’: Is it just code for ‘get used to lowered expectations’?

July 18th, 2011 8:53 am by Jan Hearne

The “new normal” is a term being bandied about lately. Talking heads most often apply it to the economic situation, other times it’s used to describe the bizarre weather we’ve been having, and it’s also used to characterize Americans’ increasingly grim view of the future.
I don’t want to bow in resignation to the “new normal,” which I interpret as another way of saying “get used to it.”
Should we really get used to the idea that future generations will have to learn to do without? That the “new normal” will include less education, lifelong rental agreements and greatly lowered expectations?
This won’t be the first time I’ve said I feel lucky to have been born when I was. Though I grew up in an age of incredible turmoil, I also came of age in a time when Americans believed we could do anything — as long as we got a good education and worked hard.
When we looked at those around us, we saw the truth of that idea borne out. My own family went from rural Georgia farms to middle class suburbs in the course of one generation. My parents met all of our needs, many of our wants and had money left over. That style of living was unimaginable to my great-grandparents.
Better still, the children of my generation expected their material success to exceed their parents’, and for many that expectation has been fulfilled.
So when I hear about “the new normal,” I fear our young people, resigned to a less-than situation, will retreat into a virtual world where winners take nothing.

The end of the space shuttle program with no immediate plans to return to space correlates with the “new normal.” We no longer look toward the heavens and say, “Why not?” Instead, we fix our eyes on the debt ceiling and wonder whether the greatest country on Earth is going to be able to make payroll.
Every day, the two political parties become more polarized, with the principal players spouting rhetoric intended to promote their agendas at our expense. Is the “new normal” a government so at odds it’s unable to act?
I have to ask when the American will to win morphed into the will to win at all costs? The current stalemate between Congress and the White House, in which both sides play chicken with America’s economy, is a dark cartoon, drawn with thickly outlined dialogue balloons and oversized Mickey Mouse fingers pointing blame at the other party. I think its disgraceful.
The whole mess brings to mind the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” He pours gasoline on a billion-dollar mound of money, sets it ablaze and says, “It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message.”
If an equitable agreement hasn’t been reached by the time you read this column, then speak up or we all may be singed.

Jan Hearne is Tempo editor for the Johnson City Press. Reach her at

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