'Change' — What Does That Mean Again?

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NPR's Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr comments about the financial crisis, and how he believes it has altered the meaning of some words in the political sphere.


At a White House event with Colombia's president yesterday, President Bush reflected on the country's financial woes. He said initially he thought his administration could handle the economic crisis one issue at a time.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And then obviously AIG came along and - you know, Lehman came along and it was - it declared bankruptcy. Then AIG came along and it - the house of cards was much bigger, beyond - sort of stretched beyond just Wall Street in the sense of the effects of failure. And so when one card started to go, we were worried about the whole deck going down, and so therefore moved, and moved hard. And I believe this is going to work.

HANSEN: NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr takes a look at some of the political language behind the economic turmoil.

DANIEL SCHORR: One of the casualties of the financial crisis is the word fundamentals, as in the fundamentals remain strong. That was once a favorite Bush response when asked about the sagging economy. Senator John McCain was still using the strong fundamentals line as recently as last Monday, but I imagine no longer. Crisis has a way of altering our political dictionary. Another word that has gone into disrepute is deregulation, as in candidate McCain's mantra, I am always for less regulation. Always, that is, until the seizure of the AIG company and the administration's proposal for a fast bailout accompanied by a strong element of regulation.

Along the way, insider has become a less negative term. Washington insiders were usually lumped with lobbyists and special interests. Governor Sarah Palin was hailed as a consummate outsider from way up north, but the financial crisis has called on the talents of insiders. Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute defended himself in The Washington Post as a card-carrying insider. And then change, still a subject of contention between the warring candidates. Since polls have shown the voters are anxious for change, the tendency is for candidates to try to capture the word by promising real change or fundamental change, except that fundamental has become a no-no word. This is Daniel Schorr.

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