Lou Dobbs was once a reasonably well respected financial journalist before he traded in his green visor for a pitchfork and a white sheet. And now he's missing-in-action during the biggest financial story of his lifetime.

Where has Lou Dobbs been? For decades, he was the face of CNN's financial coverage. He was the president of CNNfn, and his show used to be called Lou Dobbs Moneyline. He was their money guy, their plugged-in-to-CEOs interpreter of economic data and market wizard. Now, in the midst of economic collapse, his show is a trifling irrelevancy, watched only by a few hundred thousand barking survivalists in the border states.

Even when his populist-with-red-highlights persona does intersect with economic news, Dobbs is bizarrely and confusingly off message. Here is the defender of the common man bravely defending taxpayer-funded corporate jets: "There is a place in corporate America for private corporate aviation. It's an important business tool!"

In 2003, Dobbs decided that business news was too limiting a rubric for his prodigious talents, and so renamed his show the more expansive Lou Dobbs Tonight, which served as a platform for his insane rants against all persons of Mexican descent save for the one he is married to. He became a fulminating populist, preaching protectionism and attempting to save America from Mexican leprosy. It worked for Bill O'Reilly, right? But in order to get over as a man-of-the-people reactionary, you need more than titanic self-regard: You need to be a compelling broadcaster. And Dobbs' increasingly slurred performance, random outbursts, and obsessive fixation on illegal immigration have made him compelling only to a lunatic fringe who think he should run for president or governor of New Jersey.

So what's he up to these days? On Friday, the day the market showed renewed optimism, the day after the Cramer-Steward smackdown turned the nation's attention toward the way we cover the economy, Dobbs turned to his economic panel after segments about the military threat from Communist China, a car chase, a shark attack, and a book by David Horowitz. It's a lineup that is cosmically out of tune to what anybody cares about, which is the economy, a subject on which Lou Dobbs once had some credibility.

Lou Dobbs Is Useless in a Crisis

At right a screengrab from his web site, which defines an "issue that matters" right now as some sheriff in Arizona who puts Mexicans in jail.

This could explain why Dobbs' ratings are down 17 percent so far this month from last month's average, and why Fox News' Shepard Smith is currently beating him by a full million viewers.