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LOWERING THE STANDARDS FOR THE TOP JOB

With the presidential race still unbelievably tight and many voters -- unbelievably -- still undecided, it's time for a pre-election quiz.

Nothing complicated, like those Web sites that ask a long list of policy-wonk questions before matching you up with a candidate.

Just three real-life questions that cut through the fog and put the last four years in perspective as we search for a "determined" and "decisive" leader:

1. Your financial planner calls and says the economy has changed dramatically since he put you into Enron. Market conditions today are nowhere near what he told you they'd be back when he sold you megashares of a stock that seemed good at the time.

Nevertheless, he says, when he makes a choice, he sticks with it and asks you to stand behind him. In response, you:

(a) Pull out all of your money.

(b) Report him to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

(c) Demonstrate your steadfastness by pouring in more money and asking what else he recommends.

2. The doctor calls you into the office with a grim look and says the results from the tests are in. His initial diagnosis was a little off. He operated on the wrong organ because there was just no way to know what was really going on until he actually got in there.

Nevertheless, you survived, so he declares the operation a success. You:

(a) Sue the doctor and find a new one.

(b) Sue the hospital and find a new one.

(c) Say you understand things change and support him for being resolute.

3. Your car stalls when you pull into traffic. After three hours in the mechanic's waiting area reading 1998 magazines, you get your keys and drive off -- only to have the car die in front of a semi. It seems the mechanic focused on your brakes when the carburetor was the real threat. On the way to the hospital, you:

(a) Call your lawyer.

(b) Call the Better Business Bureau.

(c) Tell him you understand it's tough work that he's doing and that your car might run even worse if you changed mechanics in the middle of the warranty.

Now just one more question: Why is it that only when filling the most important job in the world, would half the country, in effect, pick (c)?

Let's be honest: We wouldn't rehire any other professional with the record of screw-ups, willful blindness and stubborn refusal to learn from the past exhibited by the incumbent.

His domestic resume? A chart of the Dow looks like one of those graphs next to the dying patient on "ER." Gas prices continue to skyrocket. So does the deficit. The number without health insurance is at a record high. He's the first president since Herbert Hoover to have a net loss of jobs.

Overseas? We're nearly isolated in the world community. Unguarded weapons caches give insurgents a bonanza. Ill-equipped U.S. soldiers need families to take up a collection for body armor. U.S. citizens get beheaded on video. Iraqi trainees get slaughtered at will. No weapons of mass destruction. No Iraqi links to al-Qaida or 9/1 1. No Osama bin Laden. Just 1,100 U.S. dead and counting.

We wouldn't entrust our money, our health or our car to someone with that kind of record, someone who can't deal with complexity, who can't adjust course and can't recognize a mistake. It's the record of a man who plays checkers in a chess world.

It brings to mind hearing Bush, during his 2001 commencement speech at Yale, practically brag about having been a middling student. And now he counts on half of the country staying with him.

It makes you wonder if he'll reprise a version of that speech in the closing days of the campaign: For all of you (c) voters out there, you, too, can pick the next president of the United States.

e-mail: rwatson@buffnews.com

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