AUSTIN, Texas -- In our continuing study of PBBUPs (People Behaving Badly Under Pressure), we are witnessing some outstanding performances -- and names are being written down. Many prominent citizens are about to lose their certification as adults. Psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists are all taking notes madly as the Bad Behavior Fiesta Bowl continues.

Here's an interesting example of how a D came to lose it completely because an R had only a loose grip. The Republican in question was Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, normally a placid fellow, who was on a Sunday chat show defending his team. They had arrived at the sore subject of the Republican riot at the Dade County Courthouse. (Let it be noted that this has not been certified as a riot -- so far, all we have is the appearance of a riot by some seriously hyperventilating Republicans.)

Keating suddenly blurted out that everything was fine until "the 27-inch-neck crowd" from Chicago showed up and convinced the commissioners to recount.

Now, this was not a well-thought out characterization, and it caused moderator Tony Snow to say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa." Keating then began babbling, "These are Boss Crump, Boss Tweed and Boss Daley's boys that came in from Chicago."

This preposterous statement in turn caused a Democratic viewer to begin a rant: "Of course, people like that don't want to count all the votes. They never want to count all the votes. They've been trying to stop people from voting for 250 years. They don't like the people, they don't trust the people, and they never wanted democracy in the first place."

Now, notice that we have gone from a ridiculous and slightly offensive charge to a grand, sweeping charge that takes us back to the American Revolution and puts the entire Republican Party (which didn't exist at the time) on the wrong side of the War for Independence. Another tragic example of PBBUP-ery.

I am somewhat uneasy about the anti-democratic tenor of the Republican assault on the hand-counting process -- a familiar staple of contested elections, normally greeted with acceptance all-round. You notice that Volusia County, which happens to be run by Republicans, managed its count calmly and expeditiously. Broward also did well, in addition to offering the entertaining performance by Judge Robert Rosenberg, the guy with the big magnifying glass. Counting ballots is not rocket science, rarely involves partisan judgment and can be witnessed by everyone.

The R's attack on the judiciary is an unpleasant argument, unpleasantly made. George W. Bush's absurd statement that it's "the executive branch job to interpret the law" leaves one wondering how he can swear to uphold the Constitution when he doesn't know what's in it. (One is painfully reminded of Dean Page Keeton's letter explaining the law school's rejection of George W.: "I am sure there is a place for young George Bush somewhere. However, in light of his grades on the LSAT exams, that place is not the School of Law at the University of Texas.") You would think no R had ever heard of the constant problems with punch-card voting, even though they've been litigated for 30 years.

And why is it astonishing or even odd that there are six and a half (OK, the half is odd) Democrats on the Florida Supreme Court? There are nine Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court, and what's worse, unlike the case in Florida they're elected in partisan campaigns that are largely funded by the tort-reform lobby. I may find a few of them appalling, but it never occurred to me that there was anything illegitimate about their interpreting the law.

According to sources attending the party for the Texas Book Festival on Nov. 10, Bush was visibly furious and agitated and repeatedly said that the D's were stealing the election. This agitation may account for some of his improbable statements -- I especially liked his contention that "the court cloaked its ruling in legalistic language" -- but sooner or later we are going to have to consider the PBBUP factor in Bush's case. It's just a contested election. It's a big one, but that's all it is.

Television, of course, is being highly unhelpful -- not so much on account of partisanship one way or the other but because of the medium's incurable tendency to dramatize everything. Pitting the most passionate partisans, those with the hottest tempers, the most outrageous hyperbole, who incite and inflame everyone, does not help illuminate the issues. When you invite Rep. Bob Barr or Rep. Steve Buyer or the Rev. Al Sharpton on the air, you know perfectly well that you will get more heat than light.

Keep this up and we're going to have a whole country full of people who cannot discuss what is indeed a very close and exciting election without becoming all red in the face, the tendons in their necks popping out and their wattles shaking like a turkey gobbler's.

I'm not worried about civil war -- I'm concerned about people stroking out over this. Please recall from the Late Unpleasantness that the statement "I feel more passionately about this than you do" may be a fact, but it is not an argument.

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.