AUSTIN, Texas -- We cannot let pass without salute Martha Stewart’s remarks after being sentenced to five months in prison. In the long history of amazing things said by people in peculiar circumstances, you must admit, this ranks right up there. “There are many, many good people who have gone to prison,” she observed. “Look at Nelson Mandela.”

        We live in a great nation.

        Unfortunately, we are all likely to be driven batty if this presidential campaign gets any worse, which it is likely to do. Last week, I was on book tour doing one chat show after another and so got to experience first-hand the Republican orchestration of their talking points. And an impressive display it is. Truly, they speak with one voice, repeating the same thing over and over, never off-message -- just remarkable.

        For the first two days I was on this media marathon, the story du jour was the Senate Intelligence Committee report that concluded the CIA was just flat wrong on its pre-war calls on Iraq. Wrong abut the weapons of mass destruction, wrong about connections to Al Qaeda, wrong about Saddam Hussein having a nuclear program and so on. All of which we already knew the government had been wrong about, but this was the Official Report.

        So here’s the Republican reaction: “See, the CIA was wrong, so you people owe President Bush an apology.” I’m sitting there, brilliantly riposting, “Huh?” Here’s the chain of logic. The CIA was wrong, therefore those on the left who say President Bush lied to us are wrong because he wasn’t lying, he just believed the CIA. And you people are being rude and hateful and ugly and just mean about President Bush, and we want an apology.

        What I’m worried about here is the amnesia factor. Am I the only person around who distinctly remembers an entire 18 months ago? This is what happened: The CIA was wrong, but it wasn’t wrong enough for the White House, which kept pushing the spies to be much wronger. The CIA’s lack of sufficient wrongness was so troubling to the anxious Iraq hawks that they kept touting their own reliable sources, such as Ahmad Chalabi and his merry crew of fabulists. The neo-cons even set up their very own little intelligence shop in the Pentagon to push us into this folly in Iraq.

        Which brings us to the second talking point last week. Iraq never happened. I swear to you, this war and its disastrous aftermath never happened is the new official line. Down the memory hole. Never happened. You dreamed the whole thing. Iraq is now like Ken Lay and Chalabi. They never heard of it. Only met it once. Besides, Iraq contributed to their opponents.

        According to The New York Times, “several Republicans,” presumably speaking for the Bush campaign, noted that American casualties in Iraq are down from last month. Actually, that is quite untrue. Forty-two Americans were killed in Iraq in June, presumed to be an unusually bloody month because it was leading up to the big handover of sovereignty. As of July 21, 43 more Americans have been killed in Iraq, with 10 days still to go in the month.

        Total number of Americans killed so far is 901, but the new line is: What War? We turned it over to the Iraqis, see? Presto, it disappears, just like magic. It’s their problem now. Doesn’t have anything to do with us. Bush is out campaigning by calling himself “the peace president.” Honest. “He repeated the words ‘peace’ or ‘peaceful’ many times, as he had done increasingly in his recent appearances,” reported The New York Times from Iowa this week.

        Watch the media compliantly take up this line. Truly fascinating. We’re also getting a new round of “9-11 was all Clinton’s fault anyway.” I don’t think this one will work for the R’s. It’s kind of pitiful, after four years, to still go around saying, “It’s all Clinton’s fault.”

        Their first week in office, the Bushies claimed the Clintonites had taken the W's off White House computers, glued the drawers together and committed other vandalism -- all of which turned out to be a big fat lie. Why that didn’t tip the media off about what kind of people they were dealing with is unclear to me.

        Tell you what’s not Clinton’s fault, and that’s the shape this country is going to be in by the time we get rid of this administration. In addition to the fiasco in Iraq, Bush’s larger contributions to misgovernment include blinding a fiscal irresponsibility that has put this country deep in debt for years to come.

         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 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.