AUSTIN, Texas -- Strange peaches. All of us out here in the boonies should be aware this is a truly weird political year. For one thing, nobody has ever seen this much money involved. What can $200 million do in a political race, answered, we presume, by at least $100 million by the Democrats? No one knows.

            And now brace yourselves for the really bad news. All this money, intensity and advertising is not going to be spread out across 50 states. There are only 14 to 19 states considered "in play" in this election, not either solidly red or blue, Republican or Democrat. What that means is that all this money is going to hit relatively few citizens like a tidal wave.

            Most of us, in most of the states, will barely be aware there is a presidential election going on -- we're out of this loop, team. Nobody will be talking to us. Because we're not "in play," this election is not about us. For reasons established by supposedly skilful polling, none of us even get to be part of this election. We're taken for granted.

            Meanwhile, our fellow citizens in these 19 states are about to be subject to brainwashing unlike anything any of us have ever known. Poor honeys, they are going to be subject to a barrage of mind-bending garbage. By the time it's over, nobody will feel much like voting for either candidate. If I were living in any of those states (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin) I'd feel like hibernating for the next seven months. Failing that, y'all will just have to turn into some of the best citizens ever -- now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country. It's your responsibility to get your information from several sources, to see past the spin, to doubt everything that comes in ad form -- holy cow.

            For the rest of us, if we want to be involved, the best we can do is call and help to inform folks we know in the 19 states that matter. (Personally, I believe few of us are capable of discussing politics with our blood kin, and it's best to stick to friends.)

            The race is already bizarre beyond belief. Richard Clarke is now under ferocious attack for stating both the obvious and the already known. Of course the Bush administration was on automatic pilot before 9-11. Donald Rumsfeld was actually on Capitol Hill on Sept. 9, threatening a veto of a $600 million diversion from star wars to counter-terrorism. John Ashcroft was trying to slash funding to the Justice Department's anti-terrorism budget.

            Important it may have been, but urgent it was not. Nor is it any secret that the administration used 9-11 from the git-go to do what it had always wanted to: go after Saddam Hussein. And again, the understanding that the war in Iraq has actually hurt the war on terrorism does not come as a blinding revelation. We're mired in an unfolding catastrophe over there, and it has sucked resources out of the efforts to track down terrorists.

            Then, penalties for pointing out the obvious in Washington seem to be quite steep. Condoleezza Rice apparently does not know the meaning of the worked "scurrilous." Sen. Bill Frist accused Clarke of perjury, and then took it back. Frist also denounced Clarke's apology to the 9-11 families, calling it "theatrical" -- meaning, one assumes, fake -- and then had the gall to claim it was not Clarke's "place" to apologize on behalf of the government. Since no one else had done so in two and half years, most of us were relieved to find that somebody in the administration had a sense of responsibility.

            For those who are bored by "history" like pre-9-11 and would prefer to know what is being done to prevent terrorist attacks now, last week's Time magazine is a must-read. Among other things, it features one of the funniest photographs I've ever seen, of a Wyoming fire department in their haz-mat suits, bought by Homeland Security in case terrorists decide to strike at the vital center of Casper. According to Time, $61 per citizen is being spent in Wyoming, compared to $14 per citizen in California; Alaska got $58 per citizen, and New York got less than $25.

            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 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.