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Race isn’t about Al, W. at all

SHARE Race isn’t about Al, W. at all

PHILADELPHIA — OK. Now we're in business.

After an icky evening of Republican kissy-face and blaxploitation ("Affirmative Action, the Musical"), Poppy unleashed Chiang!

Unleashing Chiang, in the loopy Bush family patois used in golf and tennis, means giving the ball a good whack.

After a week of President Clinton taunting W., saying that the Republican candidate's message was merely "My Daddy was president," Daddy lost it.

"And if he continues that, then I'm going to tell the nation what I think about him as a human being and a person," the former president threatened on NBC's "Today."

Our summer of torpid politics suddenly came alive with the freaky spectacle of two presidents trash-talking. The race turns out to be what we thought it was all along: President Bush vs. President Clinton.

George Sr. is determined to prove once and for all that Bill Clinton is a tacky hick who defiled the presidency. Clinton is determined to prove once and for all that George Sr. is an irrelevant aristocrat who thinks the presidency is a family heirloom.

Two intensely competitive chief executives, who had been trying not to meddle too much in the campaigns of their proteges, bolting off the reservation in a bid for vindication.

George Sr. is fighting for the second term he feels he was gypped out of by Clinton. And Clinton is fighting for the third term he needs to launder his legacy.

W. and Al are alternately bystanders and stand-ins in the big rematch.

It is as though the tape of the '92 election, on pause all these years, has started rolling again.

The presidential hissy fit is driven by class rage.

The Bushes have been privately steaming that Gore/Clinton have not abided by Marquess of Queensberry rules, allowing the Republicans to enjoy their nomination party without any Democrats throwing a punch.

Bush Pre believes his manners toward his successor have been impeccable, and that he has been discreet out of loyalty to the office.

"Who's been more gracious and charitable to Bill Clinton, even during Lewinsky?" asked the former president's old friend, former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming.

So the Bushes felt the gentlemanly rules of order were broken during the last week when the Democrats put out an ad attacking Dick Cheney's conservative record and two more attacking W. on health care and the environment, and when Clinton repeatedly mocked W. as a coddled daddy's boy at fund-raisers.

"The country was in the ditch," Clinton said in Boston Friday, talking about '92, comparing the Bush White House to a ditzy "Wayne's World."

Nobody gave Clinton, who never knew his own father and who had to stand up to an abusive, alcoholic stepfather, a solid gold key to success. And he clearly thinks Gore, another regent raised to be president by a famous political father, is not up to the challenge of gutting the Bushes on the entitlement issue.

It has to be galling to Clinton that Americans don't seem inclined to reward his vice president for the purring economy.

W. and Gore will probably keep campaigning, but we all know it's not about them anymore. Maybe it never was.