IN THESE TIMES of crisis, when America seems to have lost its way, Congress is finally facing up to, yes, the ketchup issue.
Salsa, as you may have heard, has surpassed ketchup as America's favorite condiment. And this can't be right, not in the America I used to know.
We're already facing the browning of not just America, but also of American bread. The whole-wheat fad, not to mention the bagel fad, the pita-bread fad and, most disturbingly, the corn and wheat tortilla fads, are undermining the long-standing concept of white-bread America, land of the (color) free.
What next, America -- tofu burgers? (They already have tofu burgers? Has anybody told Rush "Whopper" Limbaugh?)
Many years ago, the Founding Fathers built this great country with an abiding belief in certain fundamental values, including apple pie, tuna on white, Chevy trucks, hot dogs -- believe me, George Washington never once ate sushi -- oh, and ketchup.
Yes, ketchup. In a letter that Robert A. Underwood, Guam's delegate to Congress, sent to his colleagues in the House, he urged them to consider his "ketchup only" proposal. The letter begins this way:
"I was surprised to learn salsa has replaced ketchup in sales as our nation's leading condiment. I hope you share my concern that a country built on ketchup should take steps to ensure the predominance of this vegetable as our national condiment."
The letter continues: "Our nation was founded on commonality. Salsa, and to a great extent soy sauce, threatens the (dietary) fiber of our nation. Those who would urge diversity do not understand the importance ketchup plays in our schools."
Underwood goes on to point out: "If people want to come to this country, they should be prepared to use our condiments. We can even put signs at the border: 'Eat this.' "
Some see this as a humorous attack on the English-only proposals now sweeping both houses of Congress, in which English (American English, not English English or else we'd all be saying "Cheerio" and "lorry" and "pip, pip") would be the official language of the United States.
As it turns out, there are those who wonder why we need such a bill.
I mean, just about everybody I know already speaks English. Just about everything I read is in English. Rarely do I come across anybody rattling on in, say, Serbo-Croatian.
There is some apparent concern, though, about the Hispanic subculture in certain parts of this country, where they have the radical idea of teaching Spanish-speaking kids in Spanish until they learn enough English. This, I'm told, is destroying America.
You know what happens. The next thing, radio broadcasters are pronouncing Leo Gomez's name as "Lay-o."
Just to show you how far behind the curve I am, I thought the problem was that Americans can't speak any language except English. I took Spanish for two years in high school, and all I can remember is: "El burro es grande." Which comes in handy less often than you'd expect.
And yet Bob Dole is campaigning on this issue. Here's part of a campaign speech: "Our diversity requires us to bond ourselves to the American idea in every way we can -- by speaking our language, taking pride in our history and embracing the traditional American values."
He didn't mention ketchup, but I think you can see that the ketchup issue underlies everything Dole was trying to say. Underwood's proposed bill falls right in line.
This can't be a joke because if there's anything we did learn in school when we weren't learning how to speak foreign languages, it is that nobody in Congress has a sense of humor. People have a sense of humor about Congress, however, or how else do you explain Rep. Sonny Bono?
No, I think Underwood's serious. And I think he has a point.
There was a time when ketchup, in the days before millionaire baseball players went on strike, stood for something. There were even presidents who wanted to make it the national vegetable.
It's a wonderful concoction of tomato and corn syrup and vinegar and salt. It's not challenging. You don't have to wonder whether it's mild ketchup or spicy. It's just there for you, and now in squeezable containers.
You smear it on your hot dogs. Your burgers. Your bologna sandwiches. I've got a nephew -- this is true -- who puts ketchup on macaroni and cheese. Try doing that with salsa.
You see, salsa is, if I'm not mistaken, of Mexican origin. This is what NAFTA has brought us.
And let me just ask you this: How can America stand tall when millions of our citizens are constantly leaning over to reach for more nachos?