MEANWHILE, back at the recession, leading economists, leading political leaders and leading President George H. W. Bush are at grips with the most vital question of the day. That question: Is there a recession, and if so, who cares as long as the polls show the election is in the bag?
As we join them, little Jane and Jimmy too have just galloped up to the White House unaccompanied by their usual cohorts, leading 1935 radio cowboy star Tom Mix and Tom's wonder horse Tony. A leading economist, prone to saying what everybody but the audience has known for days, speaks:
"Little Jane and Jimmy too! You rode off with Tom to find the answer to the most vital question of our generation: to wit, who leaked the FBI report on Anita Hill? Yet now you return without either Tom or Tony."
The president, a mite testily: "Now wait a minute! Just because Tom isn't with them doesn't justify the media in saying America is in a state of Tomlessness."
Leading White House sycophant: "Or Tonylessness either, Mr. President. Anyhow, even if it is, what about Chappaquiddick?"
Little Jane and Jimmy too, who have the annoying habit of speaking as one, have an alarming tale: "While studying a cold campfire for clues to the source of the monstrous leak, Tom was taken unawares by three statesmen -- "
"At this point in time nobody says 'taken unawares,'" says a leading economics prose master. "You mean that events outside Tom's parameters of expectation converged to limit his previous mobility. In short, if he's now unemployed, it's his own fault."
Little Jane and Jimmy too: "They weren't parameters that seized Tom, sir. They were three statesmen, senators three: Simpson, Specter and Hatch. 'Don't try to get by with a scurrilous lie,' we pTC heard them tell Tom with a hair-raising cry, 'for remember with fear what is written quite clear: "A tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye." So best tell the truth or you'll be the prize catch of the statesmen three: Specter, Simpson and Hatch.' "
Leading White House aide John Sununu suggests that since Tom is now unable to keep tots chowed down at the bunkhouse, little Jane and Jimmy too now do something unglamorous for the administration and take jobs as hamburger flippers. Though not as exciting as riding the range for justice, he says, it will hold down the unemployment statistics.
"But," wail Jimmy too and little Jane, "Tom is being held prisoner in the old mine shaft while Senator Simpson reads him a code of media ethics night and day."
Leading President Bush, suddenly alert: "I can't believe it! Tom Mix mixed up with the media crowd? A great American like Tom, riding a great American wonder horse like Tony, to say George Bush cares more about foreign policy than he does about the domestic agenda?
"Say it isn't so, little Jane and Jimmy too!"
Hangdog intonations subtly enter the voice of little Jane and Jimmy too, for, being 1935 children, they believe in legends and admire George Washington, so cannot tell a lie. "As radio people," they say, "we are all inescapably, alas, media: Tom, Tony the wonder horse and we two too, little Jane and Jimmy too."
A leading White House handler of Supreme Court nominees says, "There wasn't any media in 1935 -- "
"Not 'wasn't any media,' " says a leading Republican pedant. "It's 'weren't any media.' Media's plural. Needs a plural verb."
"That was one of the few great things about 1935: There weren't any media," says a leading White House sentimentalist. "There were Orphan Annie, the Singing Lady, Bobby Benson, Chandu the Magician, and while most people knew a little Latin, everybody still spoke English."
"No wonder the Republicans lost every election that came along," says a leading campaign consultant and master of the science of clouding men's minds. "Speaking of which, shall we meet again next week after studying some fresh polls for an answer to the most vital question of the day: to wit, is there a recession, and if so, so what?"
Meanwhile, at a faraway California ranch, Tony the wonder horse is being turned away by a former leading American president with the explanation, "There's no free oats."
Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times.