AUSTIN, Texas -- For those of us trying to get our slacker fellow citizens to pay attention to this absorbing presidential race, life is looking up a little.

Gov. George W. Bush was complaining last week about attacks by Democrats -- he frequently does that -- and then he added, in his sunny, positive way:

"Secretary Cheney brought people together and helped win a war, which stands in contrast to Vice President Al Gore, who tends to divide people, to create war."

I like this pattern. Bush used it quite successfully against John McCain in the primaries, time and again. Bush would say something tacky about McCain, who would then say something tacky about Bush; then Bush would loudly protest that he was being attacked. "This is nothing but attack politics, and aren't we all tired of attack politics?"

He had a whole ad campaign complaining that McCain had compared him to Bill Clinton. Then he'd say something else tacky about McCain.

I really enjoyed the episode when Gore came to Texas to point out a few sad facts -- air's terrible, 1.4 million kids with no health insurance, that kind of thing -- and Bush said he was being attacked. As "Give' Em Hell" Harry Truman used to say, "I just tell the truth and they think it's hell."

Asked Thursday about some of his new running mate's more mind-boggling votes in Congress, Bush said: "What do you expect? I'm running against people who all they do is spend time tearing people down."

And that certainly explains why Dick Cheney was one of four members of the House who voted against banning part-plastic guns that can get past airport security. Besides, Gore creates war.

I can't wait for the Republican National Convention. They promised that it would be a positive, upbeat affair -- no attacks on Democrats. Let's check back when it's over.

And in the meantime, here's an interesting event: Both the House and Senate, by wide bipartisan margins, passed measures easing the embargo on Cuba for food and medicine. Unfortunately, because this is a democracy, the majority did not prevail.

The partial repeal took 40 years, and it turned out that practically no one cared -- the thing got almost no media coverage. And that does indicate a certain out-of-touchness on the part of our leaders with public sentiment. They voted to repeal the embargo, and no one cared.

For 40 years, Washington has been terrified by right-wing Cubans who supposedly have enormous political clout. If there's one thing that the entire Elian Gonzalez mess did for us, it was to demonstrate that the opinions of right-wing Cubans are not mainstream. As was the case with the Wizard of Oz, when you look behind the curtain, there's not much there there.

Of course, the fact that both houses passed a partial repeal of the embargo does not mean that it's going into effect. That's what people like Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas are for.

Let me point out that only a Republican Congress could have done this; if the Democrats had done it, a great howl would be going up about sellout, appeasement, commie-lovers and treachery. (And let me assert right here that I truly think Fidel Castro is a bad, bad man. If you don't put that in when writing about Cuba, you get some very nasty phone calls from Miami.)

This country was perfectly batty on the subject of Cuba for years. Castro's name used to cause the entire Establishment to foam at the mouth and fall down in fits. But two generations of Americans have grown up with the impression that Castro is a gassy old geezer with a bad beard. A few of the rest of us have noticed that this embargo doesn't work worth squat; in fact, it makes us look silly.

Brother DeLay's contribution to all this was to block the repeal by parliamentary maneuver. Late last week, DeLay just summarily scrapped the key provisions, which had passed 301-to-116 and 232-to-186. A spending bill minus the amendments then passed 214-210.

Many who favor repeal of the embargo have argued that it would be good for Cubans to have more access to the United States because then they could see the beauty of democracy, instead of a one-man dictatorship. I think so, too.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.