Had a Martian landed in America and followed its presidential race, he (or she) would conclude that its biggest problems are the profanities of Jeremiah Wright, the hallucinations of John Hagee and the ghost of John F. Kennedy. And had he landed here, he would have thought the American presidency will rise or fall on its handling of Bashar Assad, Hosni Mubarak and Tzipi Livni. If only. In fact, the sole superpower's most pressing problem is an economic crisis of historic proportions, while the presidential hopefuls are talking voodoo economics and spraying candy, confetti and air-freshener in the public's face. Obviously, the candidates realize the economy is on people's minds, and, what's more, that it costs them nothing to blame it all on the Bush administration's having made this or that mistake, a mistake they will easily undo. It's as easy and painless as that, they say, sounding like a dental hygienist out to disarm a nervous toddler before tenderly brushing his near-virgin teeth. And since the grand aim and collective reflex is to discuss the sad state of the economy, but in a way that keeps the public happily asleep, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton habitually attack George Bush's $2 trillion worth of so-called tax cuts for the rich. If only taxation of income, estates, capital gains and dividends had not been slashed in 2001-03, then America's fortunes would not have dwindled, they say. Of course, restoration of the pre-Bush tax regime will come painlessly, as it will be done not swiftly upon conquest of the Oval Office but more than a year later, and that too only passively, by simply allowing the old law to expire in 2010; what's burning, after all, besides the energy, grain and currency markets? McCain's gospel is even more pleasant, as he will leave the Bush tax cuts intact. And Obama has it even smoother, as he promises to retrieve not only the money from the rich, but also the army from Iraq, an arena where the American taxpayer has sown an annual $150 billion that indeed had not been earmarked back when the invasion was ordered. Needless to say that all the candidates have a great deal to say about the crisis in the housing market, the credit crunch, the yawning trade deficit, the limping dollar and, of course, the skyscraping oil prices, and each also brandishes his own assorted prescriptions for the patient's rehabilitation. The problem is only that they nurture the delusion that for most people, most of the time, the potion will travel down America's throat as smoothly as olive oil and taste as sweet as cough syrup, while in fact it will be sweet as sweat and pleasant as triple-bypass surgery. TAKE, FOR instance, Clinton's suggestion that American drivers' gasoline tax be suspended over the summer. Sounds so smart that you wonder how no one thought of that before her. Families hitting the road for a summer adventure several states away may really save a good few hundred bucks just like that. Only problem is that while politically clever, economically this is a non-starter (so to speak) as it will actually raise demand for oil just when its declining supply has become a global problem. Obama understood this and lost no time mocking this proposal, but he countered with a proposal to cut the middle class's payroll tax by $1,000, which sounds even smarter, provided of course that Obama would tell us in a rational way how he would compensate for the lost income. Instead, he and the rest of the candidates are promising even greater expenditures. McCain says he will not only stay in Iraq, but in fact expand defense spending. Obama will earmark $65 billion to institutionalize health care. Clinton would spend $100 billion on that. Both would also add $15 billion for alternative energy research, and Obama would also cut taxation on elderly people whose annual income is lower than $50,000. Oh yes, he would intensify the war on corporate tax evasion - like that battle has not yet been engaged. These and the rest of what the candidates have so far drawn from their bags of tricks add up to one major exercise in denial, denial of the invasive surgery, widespread hardship and scathing truth that the American public will sooner rather than later have to face. THE TRUTH is that America's national debt has ballooned this decade alone from $5.6 trillion to $9.1t. The truth is that the candidates' campaign promises mean even further deepening the deficit, while reality is that it must be slashed - sharply and urgently - lest the fire that has already caught the housing and credit markets spreads to the rest of the economy. The truth is that the commodity markets are ablaze because the sole superpower was asleep while new powers emerged and prospered. The truth is that the dollar's global evaporation reflects the very kind of budgetary dereliction that all candidates continue to uphold. And the truth is also that a change of policy in Iraq cannot undo the crisis, because America has no option of fully leaving that theater, let alone overnight. For truth be told, rehabilitating the American economy can only be done by slashing spending and raising income, and to raise income one must go to the middle class, that 97 percent of Americans who earn less than $250,000 annually, because the middle class is any modern economy's backbone, critical mass and largest gold mine - no matter what demagoguery you'll hear on this front from Obama, Clinton or for that matter Amir Peretz. The priests who have so bizarrely taken center stage in America's presidential race are a farce, but they are getting sucked into the honesty vacuum created by leaders who fear discussing the perplexing truth, lest the people mock them and, worse, vote for someone else. In this they all underestimate the American people. No one has tried to tell the American voter - a la Jonah's warning to the people of Nineveh - that to stem his country's imperial decline every citizen will have to change, sweat and pay. Like Clinton, Obama and McCain, Jonah, too, initially preferred to escape rather than shout the truth. Yet once he spoke the truth - the people shocked him by changing their ways and averting their own demise. If this worked with a sinful nation, it can certainly work with America, whose people - unlike what those preachers will tell you - have not sinned; they just have dishonest candidates.