At a house on one of the rural roads I occasionally travel, there's a mixed-breed collie-looking dog that, when a car approaches, rushes toward the road with all the energy and fervor of a lion charging its prey. He dashes up to the mailbox, which is mounted on a 4x4 wooden post, "hides" behind the post until the car is adjacent, then runs alongside, barking fiercely.

Even though there ain't a thing in the yard except the mailbox, because he's behind that skimpy post, the silly dog thinks he can't be seen; he's "under cover" until the moment the approaching car beast is within striking range and he can pounce. It's apparently great fun for the dog, and I always hope he doesn't get splattered by an onrushing car or truck, because it's such a funny sight.

It occurred to me, during the snoozer that was the first nationally-televised debate by the presidential candidates, as George W. and Al were parroting the same scripted dialogues they've been repeating in a campaign seemingly decades-long, that it's all sorta like the dog behind the mailbox post: They stand behind a laundry list of promises that sound ever so good as TV sound bites, but the voters, who've been this route before, are seeing the broader perspective.

Newspapers around the country trotted out all their sports cliches to write battle-spirited headlines about the first talkathon. "Clash" was a favorite descriptor word, as were "sparred" and "attacked." Clash? Attacked? Gimme a break.

Coming on the heels of the most boringly packaged Olympics TV coverage in the history of the games, some entrepreneur could rake in a bushel of bucks by combining NBC's broadcasts of Costas and Company in Australia with the Gore-Bush debate and offering the videotape as a cure for insomnia. Fifteen minutes and you're guaranteed to be racking up Zzzzzs.

Gore, despite the concentrated coaching and grooming to make him more personable and less wooden, could still stand in for the robot on "Lost in Space." Bush seemed leaden and less interested in mixing it up with Al than in being sure he managed to recite every last one of his memorized talking points.

There was much ado by both over tax cuts, but differences as to the best recipe for handling a surplus projected to be nearly $5 trillion over the next 10 years. While there's probably no one who wouldn't like to pay less to the IRS, basing tax cuts on projected surpluses can be risky business, since one must assume a continuing healthy economy and that Congress will resist spending large chunks of the surplus on a variety of pet projects (its record there isn't so hot). One's memory doesn't have to be too long to recall the economic pickle this country found itself in as a result of overly-generous tax cuts by previous administrations. Rather than oneupmanship in cutting taxes, why not do everyone a favor and press for meaningful reform/simplification of the monstrously convoluted tax code - including repeal of the "death tax" and "marriage penalty"?

Revamp Medicare? Provide access to health care for everyone? Protect and enhance Social Security? Reduce skyrocketing prescription costs? Develop a national energy policy and stick to it? Push for sensible, realistic measures to protect the environment and natural resources? Oppose genocide and oppression wherever they rear their ugly heads?

Of course. All are noble objectives for a president, be he Republican or Democrat. However un-presidential the two candidates may seem on the hustings, the reality is that one will become president. Some men are born to greatness, the adage goes; others have greatness thrust upon them. Whichever candidate wins, we can hope he will be sufficient to the task.