PORTLAND, Ore. -- My, what fun we are having this festive fall campaign season. Ads running coast to coast informing us that if the other guy wins the election, pestilence will fall upon the land, weevils will eat the corn, our children will be sacrificed to Baal, and we'll all be afflicted with piles. It makes me miss the warm, positive, upbeat, people-loving candidates of yesteryear. Like Richard Nixon.

Tough times for those of us who are just little rays of sunshine all the damn time. I was trying to think of a single area where the country appears to be headed in the right direction.

The economy? Flop. Health care? Disaster. Homeland security? The director of the CIA says we're about to be attacked again. Foreign policy? Even our allies are starting to hate us. The environment? Please.

Meanwhile, our only president continues to insist that we need to go bomb Iraq, as he so lucidly explained the other day, "for the sake of peace." We once had a war to end war, but we've never actually tried a war for peace before.

The most disturbing story I've seen lately was about the administration's efforts to pressure the CIA to stop reporting that there is no known connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, and that Saddam will likely only use any weapons of mass destruction if we attack him. It's never useful to force your intelligence agency to twist the evidence to suit the policy you've already chosen. That way lies disaster.

And I'm bothered by the new Bush doctrine titled the "National Security Strategy of the United States," which declares that the United States can act alone, and "pre-emptively," and "will never again allow its military supremacy to be challenged." As Leslie Gelb, president of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations said recently in the New York Times, "The issue is not whether we're the strongest nation. We are, in fact, stronger even than the British Empire was at its peak. The issue is what can you accomplish through military power -- by being No. 1. And are you using this enormous power in the right way?" In other words, instead of relying on our military might, what we might need is a giant intelligence operation, and consequently, a giant infusion of brains, cash, resources and personnel, particularly Arabic speakers, ASAP for both the CIA and the FBI.

The FBI, of course, falls under the purview of Attorney General John Ashcroft. I regret to report that he is not a widely loved figure in Oregon. People here have voted twice for a Death with Dignity measure, and so the state law permits doctors to help terminally ill patients to end their lives in peace. Ashcroft chose the immediate aftermath of September 11, when he had nothing more important to do, to bust doctors who have legally assisted citizens to end their lives. He also found the time to complete his immortal nine-month investigation of prostitution that culminated in the arrest of 11 hookers in New Orleans. With that kind of focus, I have perfect confidence that Ashcroft will discover any al Qaeda agent trying to slip into this country -- especially if she has bare breasts.

And, it's not just the issues. Maybe the Bush gang is less relentlessly focused on elections than on governing. But no. According to the Washington Post, "More than 350 administration appointees, some of whom were told by White House officials that they needed to show their Republican credentials, have taken vacation time and are being flown by the party to House and Senate campaigns in states where control of Congress will be decided. The appointees will organize volunteers, work the phones and go door to door." Now I'm impressed. Clinton only rented out the Lincoln Bedroom and held coffees to hit up contributors.

"President Bush has harnessed the broad resources of the federal government to promote Republicans in next month's elections," the Washington Post reports. "From housing grants in South Dakota and research contracts in Florida to Air Force One rides and photos in the White House driveway, Bush has made Republican success on Nov. 5 a government-wide project."

This bunch is setting new records for chutzpah daily.

As we blessedly reach the final stretch of this appalling campaign season, you might want to be wary of any last-minute "scandals" or announcements of investigations, or anything the opponent has no time to refute. Both parties are already accusing one another of voting fraud, and reports abound of problems with new voting machines, so it looks as though we're in for another of those fabulous post-election seasons. Won't you be glad if it's not really over?

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 2002 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.