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Clinging to the last feeble rays of vacation last Sunday morning, we did what we always do when we are here, grabbed some coffee and a couple of egg sandwiches, and headed for Job's Lane beach with a stack of newspapers. We grunt headlines at each other and talk about things we don't have time for during the week or that we don't want the kids to hear.

We were the first out there, not surprising at 7:30 a.m. on a gray, windy day, with Dennis the menacing hurricane raising hell somewhere over the Atlantic horizon. The waves were coming like thunder. Even by mid-morning, there were only a couple of dozen people around. A middle-aged couple walked by with their daughter; my wife looked up and said, "Aren't you our governor?"

George Pataki is -- and he said "Yes," smiled an instant but never broke stride. He was in the water before you could say, "Where's the security?" And that was exactly what everyone was saying. Out here, where the campaign contributions grow on sea grass, we have become numb to getting out of the way of entourages. The Clintons, you know.

Actually, there was a guy up the beach wearing street shoes and a walkie-talkie of some kind, which is less security than some billionaires here bring into the bathroom. The chief of the Southampton Town lifeguards was there, too, a prudent move because the sea was too rough for most. Our governor, it turns out, loves the water and was swimming across the crests for almost an hour -- long enough for people to begin asking if anyone knew the name of the lieutenant governor.

Mrs. Pataki came out of the water after a few minutes and sat by herself on the sand. Women, none of whom knew her or her husband, stopped to chat. "Nice woman," said my wife. I grunted.

When they left, getting into an SUV driven by the guy with the shoes, there was a single conversation on the beach: "Imagine if it were the Clintons!" That speculation had the skies filled with helicopters, the sand covered by guys talking into their sleeves and ordinary people pushed into holding pens and being asked to get down, please, by photographers.

Most of the folks on the beach, I'd wager, were Democrats, but the conversations were uniformly hostile to the Clintons. These were not issue-oriented discussions. These were get-the-Clintons-out-of-my-face conversations.

It may seem trivial, but the royal "We" of the Clintons is Hillary's greatest political problem in her undeclared run for the Senate. The president and the first lady have forgotten where they came from -- they do not come across as real people anymore -- and have forgotten that we got to be a country by driving out royalty.

So I was not surprised to see the results of the Washington Post-ABC News poll that indicated the royal "We" may also be Vice President Gore's greatest political problem. The Post headline last Wednesday was: "Clinton-Weary Public Has Doubts About Gore."

"Weary" is the operative word. In that poll, 53 percent of the respondents checked the box that asked whether they were "just plain tired" of the Clintons. Interestingly, that was almost the same number as the 56 percent who said they would vote for that vaporous Republican, George W. Bush, if the presidential election were held today.

This is not all the Clintons' doing by any means. The press is part of it, demanding the absolute right to be near the royal "We" at all times. "Security," in fact, is the real driving force behind the joke of presidential lifestyle and travel. When Richard Nixon was president, the taxpayers of the United States paid just over $1,000 for an ice machine in his house at Key Biscayne, Fla. That was a matter of security -- after all, someone could poison the "first ice."

Getting back to the politics of the day: Clinton (Hillary) and Gore could do themselves a lot of good by going for a bipartisan swim with Pataki and all the rest of us.

Universal Press Syndicate

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