The press, its attention diverted by weather, Warsaw, and the president's State of the Union message, is blowing what may be the major political-legislative-cultural story of the year.

I refer to the bill, introduced last fall in the Senate to make the square dance the American national folk dance.

Early support for the measure has blurred lines of party and political sensitivity. Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd, a Democrat, introduced it. Strom Thurmond hailed it as "a tremendous piece of legislation." His fellow Republican, Howard Baker, called it "momentous." The press may thus have been misled into thinking it is noncontroversial. It isn't. Indeed, it could, if enacted, tear this country apart at the seams.

It is impossible to suppose that people for whom folk dancing means an Irish jig could be happy with this bit of terpischorean treachery. Partisans of the New Orleans Strut will see an official allemande as an attack on their culture. One might just as well decree that Vermonters submit to grits, or Texans to pie for breakfast.

Black people are certain to see the proposal as further erosion of their civil rights. Nor are Hispanic or Oriental Americans likely to be reassured, although I did once see a cowboy-booted Japanese bassist with a bluegrass band in Sitka, Alaska.

Young people, most especially those in the cities, may well be moved to abandon politics altogether. The person who thinks of disco as the ultimate art form will have no truck with square dancing. That should have been obvious from the fact that the bill's chief sponsor, Byrd, is a country fiddler who would not recognize a Moog synthesizer if it bit him on his do-si-do.

And yet this potentially divisive bill cleared the Senate on a voice vote without a single dissent. There was no debate, no minority report, no expert testimony, not even a single authoritative poll.

Without prejudging the matter, it does seem reasonable that we institute a national debate on this issue. I would favor a bipartisan, black-white- yellow-red-and-brown-ribbon committee to investigate the claims of various dance forms for enshrinement as the "national folk dance."

We might agree, upon sober reflection, that none of the old dances measures up, that what is needed is a dance that speaks to the tenor of the times. I suggest only a few of the possibilities:

Perhaps the Reagan Ramble, in which erstwhile liberals choose unlikely partners and shuffle steadily to the right. Perhaps the Stockman Shuffle, in which you hum the bandleader's song but sing your own tune under your breath.


The ERA Holdout, in which grim-faced dancers keep moving their feet long after the ball is over and the musicians departed.

The Bob Jones Jerk, in which any dancers who stray across the color line are religiously jerked back to reality.

The Let-'Em-Eat-Cake Walk, in which rich dancers agree not to apologize for being rich if poor dancers promise not to apologize for being poor.

The Boll Weevil Wiggle, in which you dance with the handsome stranger, no matter who brought you to the ball.

The Gypsy Moth Mazurka, same as above except you do it backward.

The Supply-Side Strut, in which you keep doing the same steps no matter how often the music changes.

The IRS Arson, in which you first smash the fire extinguishers because you don't like the way they were designed, then submit a proposal for new ones after the house is on fire.

The Predecessor Point, in which you claim personal credit for all the good news while blaming the guy who preceded you for all the bad.

The Civil Rights Reverse, in which the dancers are kept busy competing for prizes they thought they had won 20 years ago.