Put Political Debate Back on Economic Track

Article excerpt

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that Steve Forbes and his flat tax were plastered all over the covers of those newsmagazines we're all supposed to read (but that always manage to get sort of stuck to the melted candy on the coffee table in the living room)?

Weren't we in an uproar over the balanced budget and whether the House Republican freshmen were going to force the leadership to accept a huge middle-class tax cut as part of the package?

Weren't we, you know, waiting for the national debt to explode like a megaton bomb because we had more obligations than the Treasury could handle?

Wasn't it kind of like yesterday, or maybe the day before, that the government was shut down because the two major national parties couldn't decide how to spend the billions and billions and billions of dollars we send to Washington every year?

Weren't our trading partners wondering about whether our Treasury notes were still good? Wasn't Wall Street poised to plunge off the cliff because of the fiscal gridlock?

Wasn't the election year of 1996 supposed to be the cataclysmic winner-takes-all fight between the we-hate-the-government conservatives and the government-is-our-friend liberals?

And now - because the grand pooh-bah of all talking heads, Pat Buchanan, wins New Hampshire, spins his head around a few times, compares himself to Abe Lincoln and George Washington, tells people who own used Chevy Blazers to grab their guns, mount up and ride like the wind, steals a stone from the Alamo, and sets up a photo op at the Texas border to symbolically lay the stone down as the cornerstone of a 50-foot-high wall between Mexico and the United States (just kidding) - all of those big, huge, monstrous, haunting economic questions are just so much historic rubble? Gone, forgotten, just like that? Poof?

Oh, well.

I am now resigned to the fact that all anyone will talk about for the next few moments, at least, is whether Lamar Alexander paid retail for his red-and-black shirts at Wal-Mart or whether he ordered them from the L.L. Bean catalog.

I understand that we will be told, like good children strapped to our seats in school, that we must pay very close attention to Mr. Buchanan as he defends aides who patronize white-supremacist rallies, wears goofy-looking USA hunting caps that are so loud they scare away the ducks, rambles on about international banking conspiracies that make senators (such as Bob Dole) bail them out, and rails against whizzing, clicking fax machines in Washington (mine whirs, by the way) operated by dastardly insiders plotting against him.

But, really, do we have to? …