AUSTIN, Texas -- Great. George W. Bush sounds like English is his second language, and Al Gore sounds like he thinks it's yours. It's like having Ted Baxter of the old "Mary Tyler Moore" show running for president: Gore has Ted's manner, and Bush has his brain.

The oddest thing about this presidential campaign is the extent to which it is almost entirely focused on Gore. His every utterance is parsed in unsparing exegesis by the media. Every nuance of his wardrobe is examined in endless detail. (If he'd taken to golfers' brilliant colors rather than earth tones, what do we think this would have said about his foreign policy decisions?) His every change of debate strategy is read as a clue to the inner man. Indeed, the fact that he changed debate strategy is trumpeted as evidence that he suffers from multiple personality disorder.

My favorite new line by the Bushies is: How Dare They Call Him Stupid? Not that any Gorey has ever called Bush stupid -- but if you imply that they have, it makes them sound condescending. This is getting to be the problem that dare not speak its name.

I am fully persuaded that Bush's performance in the third debate was a cry for help. Go back and listen just to Bush's answers and see what you think.

It's time that the media paid a little more attention to the Bush end of this equation. You want pop psychology? (With which the entire Washington press corps seems to be infatuated these days.) I'll give you some pop psychology.

I think Bush threw that debate. Consciously or subconsciously, the poor man knows that he is not prepared to be president of the United States, and he is desperately trying to signal us to that effect.

How do like them pop-psych apples? Makes at least as much sense as Gore with a multiple personality disorder.

George W. is the unexamined candidate, and the extent to which he is unexamined gets eerier as Election Day approaches. At least half the country is prepared to vote for the guy; if asked why, they reply, "Seems like a nice fella."

I like him myself. But he is often clueless, he does not have a nice record, and the idea of electing him president scares the living fantods out of me. I like my nephew, I like my mailman and the lady at the dry cleaners. That doesn't mean they're ready to be president.

George W. is running on the excellent platform that he trusts us. Fine. But why should we trust him?

I don't think it's a good idea to privatize Social Security -- the one place it's ever been tried, Chile, is an absolute disaster. W. favors a tax cut -- fine, but how dumb does he think we are? As Al Hunt wrote in his Wall Street Journal column: "The GOP nominee claims his tax measure principally will help the working poor and middle-class America. The rich, he says, will get a smaller percentage than they currently do, and the tax plan fits comfortably with projected budget surpluses and his Social Security plans. None of that is true."

Bush keeps citing the case of the single mother of two making $22,000 as though that's who his tax cut is for. Hunt points out that under Bush's plan, she gets a tax rebate of $72.50; under Gore's, she gets $186 more, and if she's got the kids in day care, she'll get another tax break.

The last thing that this country needs is a big tax cut that makes the rich a whole lot more rich than they already are compared to everybody else. The Bush tax cut is not in the best interests of the majority of Americans. It's a fraud, it's a scam, and shame on you if you buy it.

I used to hope that "compassionate conservative" actually meant something, but I lost that hope when Bush tried to keep 200,000 poor children out of a federal health insurance program that wouldn't have cost the state dog. And anyone who can sit here in the year 2000 and claim that everyone who is put to death in Texas has had full access to the courts and is guaranteed guilty is either a liar or a fool.

Then there is Bush's record on two modest attempts to improve the noxious death penalty system. One was a bill proposing that all criminal defendants -- including those in danger of being put to death by the state of Texas -- have adequate legal representation. (You may be wondering why this is an issue. But our courts have actually, specifically held that if your lawyer was either drunk or asleep during your trial, you still had a lawyer, so what-the-hey. I do not exaggerate; these decisions will be studied in the future like that of Dred Scott.)

OK, he opposed that. Anyone in Texas might oppose that -- it could have cost money -- but try this one: A little bill said the state of Texas should not execute people who are seriously retarded. We have polls on this; the great majority of Texans -- as great a majority, as it happens, as those who favor the death penalty in most circumstances -- are against offing people who aren't sure what their name, much less their crime, might be. Bush opposed it, it died, and don't you ever try to tell me that compassionate conservatism means anything. It wouldn't even have cost money

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.