Just when you think that our political leaders have gotten so small they could walk under an alligator without bending over, they shrink. Congress was at it last week.

We are a nation beset with vexing problems - the federal debt, the trade deficit, the drought, the greenhouse effect, Hurricane Gilbert, Yellowstone's fires - and what does the House of Representatives spend its time arguing about? The Pledge of Allegiance.The Republicans, ever quick to seize a phony issue when the opportunity presents itself, moved last week to require the House of Representatives to begin each day's session with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

It was a baldly political gesture designed to resonate the issue that George Bush keeps hitting Mike Dukakis over the head with. The Democrats first voted the proposal down, but then Speaker Jim Wright, fearful of how that looked, agreed to allow the pledge to be recited and to consider making it permanent.

It seems to me that, having elected these people to represent us in Washington, we have the right to assume that their allegiance is to the flag and to the republic for which it stands. They swear their fealty to the Constitution when they're sworn into office and that should be enough.

If our political leaders actually wanted to do something patriotic, heroic even, they would start talking about taxes.

Vice President Bush has said he won't raise taxes. Mike Dukakis says he will tax only as a "last resort," whatever that means. Congress, whenever the subject comes up, hides behind the nearest flag.

I hate to be the one to break the news, but taxes are a necessary part of self-government. They're the way we pay our bills and fund services that we want. It is pointless for politicians to talk about what they're going to do for us, without talking about how they're going to pay for it.

We should treat as malarkey any politician's promise not to tax. Of course he will tax; that's his job. We should make him tell us what he will tax and how much.

We won't do that, of course. Whenever a politician seeks to bring us the truth, we immediately reject him.

We want to be told that things are going well, that there is a free lunch and that we're all above average. And we have spawned politicians who are remarkably adept at telling us just those things.

What we need is a Stop Congress movement. We should start voting against incumbents, regardless of party or record. If that seems perverse, remember this: it is merely the reverse of what we now do.

We return roughly 98 percent of Congress to office each election, without regard to party or record. The Soviet Politburo isn't that predictable. How much better if it were the other way round, if we retired 98 percent of Congress each time out.

Freed of the expectation of being returned to office, a few of them might do the brave thing once in a while. They might even talk about taxes.