AUSTIN, Texas -- Humanizing Al Gore is the topic du jour, so let me contribute my mite.

In the summer of '92, the Clintons and Gores were on a bus trip in East Texas having a whale of time. As they rolled through the small towns, when there weren't enough people to justify getting out and forming a rope line, the bus would go into a "slow roll" while Bill and Al stood on the steps leading down to the glass doorway, waving at people and letting them get a good look.

At one point, Clinton went to the back of the bus and Gore was left in the doorway by himself, waving and smiling genially at the folks while muttering something like: "Hi there. Bill Clinton wants your vote very much. Right now he's in the bathroom, but he still wants your vote. Hi there."

Of course, it wouldn't seem so improbable to see headlines about "Fun Al Gore" if the media hadn't created the Wooden Al stereotype in the first place (with a little help from Gore in his Mr. Rogers mode).

Meanwhile, we continue to enjoy the faux-naif routine offered by Republicans and their media flunkies: What could Gore mean by "the people against the powerful"?

Gov. W. Bush was so confused about it that he called it "class warfare." I especially enjoy watching Washington pundits affect to be unable to figure out the fuss. They cover Washington, D.C., and they have never in their whole lives seen or heard of a case in which special-interest money influenced legislation against the people and in favor of the powerful.

They missed communications deregulation (a bill written by lobbyists), utilities deregulation, bankruptcy "reform," banking deregulation as though nobody ever heard of the S&L disaster, the killing of the patients' bill of rights, the pittance in royalties from public lands paid by the oil companies, the sugar subsidy, the ethanol subsidy, and the auto industry's lobbying against higher pollution standards and a rating system for SUV rollover hazard.

What can he mean by "powerful special interests"?

They missed the drug industry's continuing rip-off of the public above and beyond the already wretched pricing system by sneaking drug-patent extensions through Congress; never noticed the insurance industry spending $10 million to kill health care proposals; didn't see the corporate tax write-off for obscene executive salaries; haven't wondered why a $1-an-hour increase in the minimum wage can't get through Congress; and never saw the National Forest Service subsidizing logging roads for the timber industry.

Why in the world is Gore trying to incite "class warfare"?

The plump comfortable commentators pulling down $1 million or more a year cannot understand why Gore would spout populism when everyone is doing so well. Absolutely everyone they know.

We have a criminal justice system that is so repellently biased against the poor and minorities, and so flagrantly forgiving of rich white people who use cocaine that it's a national disgrace. But no one wants to hear that, because everyone is doing just fine. What is all this populist rhetoric about?

According to the Internet, 138 stories in recent days have been devoted to the Gores' on-stage smooch, now referred to as The Kiss. The polar icecap melting got less coverage; AIDS in Africa gets less coverage.

Hey, people aren't interested in global warming. No one has noticed the drought; no one pays attention to those forest fires all over the West; people don't care about that. Al Gore talks about global warming and the media cry, "Policy wonk, policy wonk, boring!" He smooches his wife in public, and we go nuts.

The media have important things to worry about, like the new grand jury investigating Bill Clinton's love life because it hasn't been investigated enough, so no wonder they don't have time to look into how the drug companies stole the public's cancer research and made money off it, or how pathetically undertaxed corporate, industrial and mineral property is, or illegal toxic dumping, or the giveaway of the digital TV spectrum, or the ongoing effects of the 1872 Mining Act.

And of course we have far, far less time to devote to what can be done about all of this. Most people have no idea that anything can be done, or is being done. Why in the world is Al Gore fomenting class warfare?

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.