WASHINGTON -- As they used to say, long ago and far away, there it is.

Tuesday night's debate gave us the real Al Gore and the real George W. Bush. Gore won -- he may even have killed -- but he's still annoying. One can only conclude that that smarmy, pietistic streak of his is absolutely authentic; that's exactly who he really is.

He's sharp as a razor, knows his onions (does anyone else outside of Congress know what "Dingell-Norwood" is?) and will probably be a good president. Bush not only amply demonstrated his vast ignorance but also was so profoundly misleading on his supposed role in the Texas Patients' Bill of Rights that I have to conclude he knowingly lied.

It's possible to not know or be confused about a lot of things, but Bush cannot possibly believe what he said: "As a matter of fact, I brought Republicans and Democrats together to do just that in the state of Texas, to get a patients' bill of rights through." He was there, I was there, and that's flat untrue. He reviewed the details of the bill accurately, so it was clear that he had recently prepped on the subject.

To add insult to injury, Bush went on to claim: "But we did something else that was interesting. We're one of the first (actually, the first) states that said you can sue an HMO for denying you proper coverage."

What is called the Patients' Bill of Rights was actually a package of bills, only one of which was ever controversial. That's the bill Bush hated so much that he refused to sign it. He had to be talked out of vetoing it because the veto wouldn't stand.

Texas Rep. Hugo Berlanga, who was chairman of the Public Health Committee at the time, and Kim Ross, lobbyist for the Texas Medical Association, both fought him on it.

In 1995, his first year as governor, the Texas Legislature passed a Patients' Bill of Rights, and George W. Bush vetoed it. In 1997, the Legislature passed very much the same Patients' Bill of Rights, this time by a veto-proof majority, and Bush refused to sign the crucial segment of the bill, the very one he bragged about -- that in Texas you can sue an HMO for denying you coverage.

He refused to sign it because he hates trial lawyers and didn't want them to be able to sue HMOs. That's what that whole fight was about for two sessions.

The person who deserves the credit that Bush so egregiously took for bringing R's and D's together in support of a strong bill is a Republican state senator, David Sibley of Waco. Bush was an impediment throughout the entire process.

No one expects Bush to know the difference between Chernomyrdin and Berezovsky, but the one subject that he IS supposed to know about is the state of Texas. In the course of these debates, he has claimed that the governor of Texas appoints state Supreme Court justices, which is a hopeless howler. He dwelled with great relish on the claim that all three killers in the most notorious murder case of our time got the death penalty. Only two of them did. And Bush in fact did nothing to stop a hate crimes bill, which was the Legislature's effort to bring something good out of that case, from stalling. And now he claims that he passed the Patients' Bill of Rights, which in fact was passed in spite of him.

If Al Gore had twisted the truth as grossly as Bush did on the Patients' Bill of Rights, every Republican in America would be screaming liar, liar, liar.

It is harder to tell if Bush actually believes his repeated claim that he is a leader who brings Republicans and Democrats together. Can he possibly think that he, rather than the since-deceased Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, was running the state? I'm not sure which would be more troubling -- if he knows it's not true or if he actually thinks it is.

I have tried repeatedly to explain to non-Texans just how weak an office the governorship of Texas is, but even if Bush suffers from the illusion that he has a powerful job, he must know he doesn't work at it by anyone's measure. The New York Times has just discovered, with an air of great wonder, that Bush doesn't even work 9 to 5 and that he knocks off work every day for a couple of hours to jog and play video games.

This does not come as news to Texans. Our governors have varied on how much attention they pay to the job. Some have been compulsive workers -- John Connally, Mark White and Ann Richards all come to mind as full-time governors, putting in killer hours most of the time. Bill Clements, too, worked more than Bush does.

On the other hand, Dolph Briscoe spent most of his governorship on his ranch, and they've all knocked off work to go dove hunting.

I have thought since he first ran that George W. Bush was too light to be governor of Texas. Frankly, I can't imagine why anyone would consider him for president. He's not smart, he doesn't know much, and he doesn't work hard.

The truth is, he is not terribly interested in government or how it works. Damned if I know why he's running. He is a nice fellow. I've always liked him. I like lots of people who I don't think should be president.

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.