TALLAHASSEE, FLA. -- Memo To Democrats Only:

Nikolaevich Tolstoy once wrote a short story titled "God Sees the Truth, But Waits."

I suggest we nurse this grudge very carefully.

It is clear to me, as an admittedly partisan Democrat, that Al Gore carried the state of Florida on Election Day by somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 votes.

Understand that I am perfectly comfortable with the idea that the guy who actually gets the most votes does not necessarily win the election. Fine, dem's da rules. But in all honesty, I not only think the Republicans stole this, I think they know they stole it.

On the whole, I think it's better this way. For one thing, I think there are so many immature jerks in their party that they clearly had a hard time admitting it was just one helluva close election and the smart thing to do was count the votes carefully. Determined to be more self-righteous, more outraged than thou, no matter what.

It seems to me an almost singular stigmata of their party, that weird inability to admit that their own stuff don't stink. I mean, there we were, in the middle of the Hypocrisy Fiesta Bowl -- with our side, I might add, pulling such revolting maneuvers as signing onto a lawsuit to throw out military ballots, whilst publicly maintaining that every vote should count -- and suddenly here are our Distinguished and Worthy Opponents supporting a naked, raw putsch by the Florida Legislature.

Let's not change the rules after the game is over, they kept saying, let's just have the Florida Legislature select the electors instead. That was the single scariest and most outrageous thing that happened during the 36-day war.

I'm not saying one should give in to bullies because it's so unpleasant to argue with people who believe volume trumps reason. I just think somebody needs to be grown-up enough to recognize that this was an incredibly close election -- we had the votes, they had the rules, and that's the way it goes. Al Gore made a helluva good speech the other night, setting, I thought, just the right public tone.

What I'm suggesting is a private tone among Democrats of forgive and remember. Remember real well. Even in the middle of that skunk-match there were some outstanding stinkers, and they deserve to be remembered at the polls in two years.

I'm sorry to make that argument, since it's always better to vote in the hope that your candidate will turn out to be another Lincoln rather than because the other guy makes you puke, but we need some long memories here.

We need memories to keep us energized long enough to see through what is sure to be a tedious process of getting better voting equipment. This is real simple: Punch-card voting machines recorded five times as many ballots with no presidential vote than did the more modern optical scanners.

The Sun-Sentinel of South Florida figured out that the percentage counted on the best optical scanners was better than 99 percent but under the punch-card system it was 96.1 percent.

The cheesy old punch-card system is more widely used in areas where poor and black citizens live. Two-thirds of Florida's black voters reside in counties that use the punch-card system, while 56 percent of the white voters do. People who accused Jesse Jackson of "injecting racism" into this election as an issue have not spent much time in north Florida lately.

What we need here is the old Joe Hill reaction: Don't mourn, or even sulk; organize! Why be bitter when you could be useful instead? Call the nearest Democratic Party headquarters and sign up for the next run. If all you have time to do is make phone calls for maybe an hour a day right before the next election, then volunteer to do that. There's more than one way to rectify this unfairness.

In the meantime, we can all cherish the characters this episode in national life has brought to our attention.

Perhaps the oddest experience anyone had was poor Joe Klock, who was sitting there in Tallahassee, being general counsel for the Secretary of State's office, surely one of the sleepiest places this side of Nod, where nothing interesting has happened for 120 years.

All of a sudden he's arguing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, having one of those waking nightmares where you're not only out-lawyered, but you can't get anyone's name right. You even addressed one justice by a dead guy's name.

Mr. Klock, look at it this way, you know you've already been through the worst experience of your life, so you can coast from here on in.

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.