AUSTIN, Texas -- Now they're eating the chad! For all I know, they're eating pregnant chad! Call the right-to-life folks! Call the cruelty-to-animals people! I heard it on talk radio, so it must be true. Those people will stop at nothing!

Actually, I didn't quite catch which side is into scarfing chad with salt and ketchup, but whoever it is, you know they'll stop at nothing.

I vote the Republicans the winners in this weekend's Huffy, Self-Righteous Indignation Fiesta Bowl. They were much more indignant about the number of military ballots that got thrown out (presumably favoring their man, George W. Bush) and so managed to imply that all Democrats are (a) anti-military, and (b) unpatriotic, and (c) would cheerfully send Our Young People off to risk their lives while denying them the right to vote.

The D's were reduced to plaintively pointing out Who Went to Vietnam and Who Didn't, but after milking that one for years, the R's now declare that it doesn't count. Hey, even Bill Clinton got to Vietnam over the weekend.

My other favorite indignation ploy was the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger "May I point out that my opponent has the incredibly bad taste to attack a lady" -- to wit, Cruella de Vil, the Florida secretary of state. People were even making fun of the poor woman's makeup, so all those feminists and Southern gentlemen who make up the Republican Party leaped to her defense, solemnly declaring No Laughter Allowed Because She's a Girl.

These same people have been excoriating Hillary Clinton for eight years as the most murderous, lesbian, adulterous, lying, ruthless, desperate, dishonest, manipulative rhymes-with-witch since Lady Macbeth -- not to mention their endless animadversions on her appearance. It's awfully nice to hear these defenders of womanhood protecting Harris' makeup from ruthless attack.

If, as seems possible, the Florida Supreme Court allows the four-county recount to continue, it seems to me that the R's are entitled to ask for a full Florida recount. The hypocrisy of suddenly embracing the hand recount when they've been complaining about it for two weeks shouldn't trouble them at all -- no one can even keep track of the hypocrisy score anymore.

Besides, Al Gore isn't even gaining much in the recount. Likewise, I'm not persuaded that the R's have no business in federal court just because (a) Bush is always saying that the state and local levels know best (except when they're Democratic county commissioners) and (b) both the R's and their judiciary keep endorsing states' rights over federal rights. Think about it. Although it would be a rather startling reversal of fortune for this U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the Florida Supreme Court, this is clearly a state election with federal implications.

However, if (as seems likely) the Florida court's decision simply tries to keep pushing a full and fair count, I'm not sure what the grounds for an overruling would be.

Then the dread question comes: Where do we draw the line? For what it's worth, I'd say either after the Florida Supremes rule or (if the Bushies want) after the federal courts rule. What we really don't want to do is take it into either the Florida Legislature or the U.S. House, and not just because Republicans have a majority in both.

I know my onions when it comes to state legislatures (in fact, I've watched Florida's during a couple of crucial fights), and this is where the rule of law and sausage comes in. Please take my word for it -- we would all regret that. If we want the people of this country to retain any respect for the political process, we do not want to take that road.

Likewise, for either side to try to find faithless electors (isn't that wonderful? They're always called "faithless" -- never "treacherous" or "conniving" or anything but "faithless") is over the line.

Yes, the rules do permit dragging the mess into the Florida House and thence into the U.S. House (with Tom DeLay ramrodding the Republicans -- oh, sure, that's going to have a lot of legitimacy). We could legally push the creaky constitutional machinery that far. But by then we'd have more serious time constraints, graver transition problems and a real For the Good of the Nation question. Whoever's behind should quit before then. Meanwhile, enjoy.

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.