AUSTIN, Texas -- So the Democrats have a candidate at last, and he is about bent over double with gravitas. I think that means he doesn't a have humorous bone in his body. It's a good thing there's at least one serious person in this race -- the Bushies are getting sillier and sillier.  

            Just when you thought no one could top Rod Paige calling the teacher's union "a terrorist organization," along comes Veep Cheney with this gem, "If Democratic policies had been pursued over the last two-to-three years, the kind of tax increases both Kerry and Edwards are talking about, we would not have had the kind of job growth that we've had."  

            Uh, in the first place, Kerry and Edwards are not talking about tax increases at all, but about repealing part of Bush's tax cuts -- so we would have had no tax cuts, not tax increases. And in the second place, if losing 2.3 million jobs is "job growth," Dick Cheney is a laugh riot.

            We've got a $500 billion deficit this year, and Bush's idea of a solution is to make his tax cuts permanent, a move that would cost about $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Their other helpful suggestion is to redefine burger-flipping as " manufacturing jobs" (are these people never serious?). And if they can't redefine the problem out of existence, there's always the option of just announcing bad is good. Think how surprised we were to learn from Gregory Mankiw, chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers: "Outsourcing is just a new way of doing international trade. ... More things are tradable than were tradable in the past, and that's a good thing."

            I also like the dodge where Bush claims the reason there's a $500 billion deficit is because, "We're at war." Unfortunately, the cost of Iraq is not even included in the budget: It's going to be a supplemental surprise request after the election. Does any of this strike you as grown-up behavior? Or even grown-up behavior-related program activities?

            The dramatic-upward-cost surprise is getting to be a regular feature with the Bushies. Congress and the Prez passed a horrible Medicare drug bill and then, oops, a week later announced it cost $134 billion more than the advertised $400 billion. That's a 35 percent oops. You may consider it churlish of me to still be holding a grudge over the fact that at least 45 percent of Bush's tax cuts went to the richest 1 percent of the people in this country, but it's the kind of thing I get reminded of frequently. For example, the news that 375,000 people exhausted their unemployment in January, the highest number ever recorded for a single month, reminds me of that top 1 percent.

            Then we had gladsome tidings last month that Bush would appoint an "independent commission" to find out why the Bush administration kept telling us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. This commission to investigate "intelligence failures" is co-chaired by Judge Laurence Silberman, a passionate, partisan, right-wing Republican who remained a right-wing political activist even while serving on the bench.  

            One symptom of the fundamental unseriousness of the Bushies is that they never, ever admit they are wrong. Nor do they pay penalties for being wrong. What do you have to do to get fired in that outfit? They canned Paul O'Neill for telling the truth -- that seems to be fatal. On the other hand, when CIA Director George Tenet said intelligence "analysts never said there was an imminent threat" from Iraq, he wasn't cashiered -- they just pretended they didn't hear him. It is already a truism that this will be an event-driven election, and the spiraling chaos in Haiti and the horrendous coordinated bombings in Iraq remind us that it is good to have grown-ups in charge when serious things happen.

            Leading so far in the Most Imaginative Suggestion for Democratic veep are Eric Alterman for nominating John McCain and Stephen Gillers for suggesting Bill Clinton.

            Look at it this way: Even with a couple of bores like Kerry and Cheney talking for the rest of the year (with Bush you get the occasional Bushism), at least it won't be as boring as this year's Oscars.

            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.