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An open letter to Al Gore:

Don't run. Please. Let someone else take on Dubya in 2004. Carry the water for the nominee, whoever it is, but for heaven's sake keep your name off the ballot.

I voted for you last time so you know my heart's in the right place. Of course, I don't live in Florida (or have a job at the Supreme Court) so my vote didn't mean much.

Look, you spent a good part of last week telling Barbara Walters and David Letterman (separately, of course) that you hadn't made up your mind yet about running in 2004. That's why I'm putting in my two cents now.

You and I both know that you were only doing "2 0/2 0" and Letterman in the first place (as well as "Saturday Night Live" this week) to promote the books you co-wrote with Tipper, "Joined at the Heart" and "The Spirit of Family." You and I also know that you might have decided years ago that you'd rather have a daily root canal than run for president again, but that you can't begin to say so while you've got books out there. Once you've declared yourself a certifiable noncandidate in the presidential derby, you've cut in half (at least) the reasons anyone would buy your book.

You and I know, too, that the books may be something of a trial balloon for 2004. That's why you've told everyone you need more time to decide. Why swear off presidential addictions if America loves you so much that it gives you a best seller?

That's, uhhhh, not likely to be a problem.

The problem, as I see it, was that first presidential debate last time around. It lost you the election. Big time. You managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of certain victory by reminding everyone, in that first debate, of the worst smarty-pants in third grade.

There are two kinds of third-grade smarty-pants: 1) the kind who raise their hands at every question and grunt "Oooo. Oooo. Oooo. Me, Mrs. Kupchick, call on me!" and 2) the kind who groan, moan, sigh and roll their eyes every time someone else in the class gets the answer wrong (or, for that matter, gets it right).

Granted, the No. 1's in the world are a wee bit on the overeager side, but if they grow up to be president (or your brain surgeon) it's hard to mind. The No. 2's, on the other hand, are guaranteed to be everyone's candidate for oblivion.

There was no question in that first debate that you could have spotted Dubya 15 IQ points and still beat him with a head cold and a bloodstream full of antihistamines. The trouble, though, is something else a lot of us learned in third grade: the guys who always get the answers wrong may be criminally dumb but they often seem to be having an awfully good time that way.

Your Dubya problem now - and your whole party's - is that unless something unforeseen happens, his approval ratings may still be scraping the clouds and he'll take any 2004 Democratic nominee to the cleaners.

Too bad, really. My choices for presidential candidate (while you cheerlead on the sidelines) are:

Joseph Lieberman - Your old running mate. His book comes out shortly. I don't think he has a snowball's chance in Texas, but the very idea of a first lady named Hadassah is enough to cheer me up for years.

Hillary Clinton - A Hillary vs. Dubya contest would be one for the books. For sheer entertainment value, nothing could come close, unless of course the 2008 presidential contest put Hillary Clinton vs. Rudy Giuliani, the way God originally intended. As we both know, she's almost certainly too shrewd to run in 2004, unless George W. weakens considerably in the next year or so.

Dick Gephardt - Or, as he's still known everywhere, Dick What's-His-Name. If Dubya keeps on going like this, the only solution is Gephardt as sacrificial lamb. The major danger here is the most boring presidential race in American history and the decimation of the Democratic Party as we've come to know it - boredom so bad, in fact, that a constitutional amendment is passed allowing Bill Clinton to run again.

Well, why not? In 2008, he'll only be 62. Talk about entertainment value.


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