AUSTIN -- Never say this is not a great nation. A campaign in which Jesse Ventura took offense at someone else's behavior: Mr. Etiquette, the sensitive male. Poor Charlton Heston, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, no shame to him, shipped about the country, urging us all to buy more guns while being held up by supporters on each arm. Both candidates for governor in California capable of inducing brain damage in anyone luckless enough to listen to them speak. Another great year!

As a veteran of many an electoral defeat at the polls, may I remind you of the proper Texan attitude toward slaughter at the polls. A few years before Billie Carr died this September at age 74, a friend called to ask how she was doing. "Well," she said, "They just impeached my boy up in Washington, there's not a Democrat left in statewide office in Texas, the Republicans have taken every judgeship in Harris County, and yesterday, I found out I have cancer." Pause. "I think I'll go out and get a pregnancy test because with my luck, it'll come back positive."

Many are the reasons to be of good cheer, my friends, and not least of them is that we have managed to elect one of the most entrancing crews of dipsticks in the entire history of our state. "Goodhair" ("It was totally coincidental") Perry for governor. David Dewhurst for lieutenant governor. The Texas Observer, searching for someone who would say anything good about Dewhurst, finally located a Republican who admitted, "Well, he's weird. But he's less weird than he used to be." I suspect many a Republican soccer mom is somewhat startled to find the state now has an attorney general who is not only anti-choice but has said he does not believe in exceptions in case of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Happy Mother's Day.

And this merry Republican crew takes control of the state at an absolute stinker of a time, so they'll get all the blame for it, which is only fair, since it was caused by Gov. Bush. Two big tax cuts and whammo! The state is so deep in the hole every Democrat who lost has to utter a secret, "Whew!" Not only will we be down $12 billion by the end of the year, but early estimates on required additional spending are already stacking up to something in the neighborhood of 40 percent of the total budget. I think the Texas media deserve to take a hit on this one, since they let the candidates get away with campaigns that did not even begin to address the problem. Since Republicans are all sworn to eat worms and die before they raise taxes, watching them deal with this disaster should be highly entertaining. Until they have to close the schools.

Another reason to be of good cheer about the larger picture is that the Democrats deserved to lose. What a gutless campaign. It's one thing to point out that the economy is a mess; it's another to have no useful plan whatever to offer. How could they let themselves be buffaloed by Republicans on taxes, with all the facts and fairness on their side? One had only to say, "Every single nickel of tax relief in that package will stay in it, but instead of giving 50 percent of the cut to the richest one percent of Americans, we're going to put that tax relief into a payroll tax cut, it's going to the bottom 99 percent of the people." Payroll taxes stop at $84,900 a year -- anything you make over that is untaxed, a patently ridiculous system. If you cut payroll taxes, the money goes into the pockets of people who go right out and spend it, thus ginning up the economy, rather than to those who just put it in offshore tax shelters.

Further, any party so brain-dead it can't even make an issue out of Enron and corporate sleaze deserves to be out of office.

Let the post-mortems begin! This is not a whine, but I do think the major factor in the last-minute Republican tilt was television coverage. Almost the only political story for the last three days was Bush Barnstorming. It's as though they were covering a presidential campaign with only one candidate rather than a mid-term election.

One reaction to electoral disaster should be avoided at all costs: it's that annoying radical mantra, "Things have to get worse before they can get better." The only possible response to that bit of specious thinking is, "Not with my child's life." It is indubitably true things are about to get worse -- Paul Krugman quotes a junior official at the Heritage Foundation on the mood of business lobbyists: "optimism bordering on giddiness." They all have their wish lists ready, and it's Christmastime for the special interests. The only recourse is to fight them smart and hard. Giving them enough rope to hang themselves with just means we all hang along with them. Sharpen wits and man the battle stations. No time to waste feeling sorry for ourselves.

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 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.