AUSTIN, Texas -- Gosh, the most balloons EVER! I bet all you slackers out there who weren't watching are sorry now.

Just a few hints to Gov. George W. Bush's speechwriter: When you go into the riff about "I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect," try putting it more than two paragraphs away from your last attempt to stick a shiv in the Democrats.

If it had come just a few grafs later, we might already have forgotten the seven paragraphs of jabs at Al Gore, including the one that worked, "He now leads the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but the only thing he has to offer is fear itself."

See? Just a little more separation, and you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can trash the D's and still call for "civility and respect" without being accused of hypocrisy.

Item Two: For eight years, the R's have been attacking Bill Clinton with a focus that often bordered on the maniacal. It is simply an obsession. And it has never worked.

For eight years, we have watched Clinton-hatred boomerang. The man drives R's so batty that they do stuff like shut down the government and issue the Starr Report, which just hacks everybody off.

For heaven's sake, drop it. You are not running against Clinton, and if you were, you'd be in a lot more trouble.

If I were you, I wouldn't stir up Ol' Slick -- he's a better politician than your man.

Item Three: You've got another problem with trying to have your cake and eat it. You can't warn people off the record in Texas ("Don't Mess With Texas") and then selectively brag on it yourself.

You can't whine, "They do nothing but attack" when people point out that Texas has a miserable record on the environment, health insurance, social services, housing, kindergarten, the death penalty, gun control, colonias, mental health, indigent defense, social justice, etc., and then brag that our schools are getting better.

(And in the name of reality, thank you so much for finally having George W. acknowledge that he does not deserve ALL the credit for the improvement of the schools. The two generations of Texans who did the hard work appreciate that.)

Also in having-cake-eating-too, you might want to rethink having Bush, who was quite a late bloomer (40, by his account), lecture the nation on "responsibility." Quite a few of us "grew up" a long time before he did. If I had ever once heard him acknowledge the extent to which he himself is the product of discrimination in his favor, I'd think more of his "responsibility" theme.

Because Bush's record is so dim, you have to be verrry careful not just about what you claim but what you propose as well. For example, one of his biggest applause lines Thursday night was: "We must help protect our children, in our schools and streets, by (finally) strictly enforcing our nation's gun laws."

Unfortunately, the Texas record in this category is, once again, dismal. Texas has more than 600 unprosecuted cases related to people seeking licenses to carry concealed weapons.

According to The Wall Street Journal (citing data that the Houston Chronicle had covered previously), "of the 2,658 applicants denied in the program's first three years, 590 were denied as 'convicted felons' and another 181 for what appeared to be felony-related reasons. Yet, to that time, NONE (emphasis added) of those were referred to prosecutors, despite the potential that felons illegally had firearms -- they are needed for the gun-training course -- or had perjured themselves on the application."

Bush became governor by promising to sign a concealed-weapons law. According to incomplete statistics from the Department of Public Safety, as of May this year, 889 licensed carriers had been arrested for felony violations ranging from 27 cases of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter to promotion of child pornography. Another 2,790 were arrested for misdemeanors and 960 for civil crimes like violation of a protective order.

Item Four: The trouble with W. Bush's vision for using "faith-based institutions" (what a curious euphemism) to replace government social services with private volunteers is that sooner or later, someone is bound to remember this was his daddy's Thousand Points of Light program. And it didn't work then, either.

Item Five: I liked the religious cadence of the "I believe ... " section, and I thought the bit about Americans being "on the sunrise side of the mountain" was a nice Reaganesque touch.

To the stage managers: Next time, watch out for that going-overboard-on-the diversity stuff. Although the stage looked like a Motown reunion, when the cameras panned around the hall, it was "American Gothic" on Maalox. Contrast too painful.

My favorite line of the whole convention: During the roll call, Utah began the recitation of its manifold excellences with: "Utah, the only state that begins with U."

P.S.: Bob Bullock, the Texas lite guv who died last year, was not "crusty." Try blunt, profane, irreverent, irascible and ornery.

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.