As Campaign 2000 winds down and the final mega-millions of dollars worth of largely misleading ads are run, less than half of our registered voters will go to the polls this week to elect the new leader of the free world.

Dull and Wooden vs. Dumb and Smirky (earlier column) have taken sound bytes and platitudes where they have rarely gone before.

As a nation we are at peace and enjoying unparalleled prosperity, with full employment and no significant inflation. For the first time in nearly fifty years we are generating a substantial budget surplus and have reasonable expectations it will continue.

Election year issues are largely ones of degree - how big a tax cut - how much more for education - how to improve health care and social security for future generations. Even national defense falls into this category, as we are the world’s only superpower and the only nation capable of producing unlimited quantities of guns and butter. How many guns? How much butter?

The rich and wellborn, corporate America, big labor, organized religion, media moguls believe they elect presidents as they provide huge sums of money to finance the ads, mobilize the partisan armies, and fund the consultants who develop the strategies - create the tag lines – schedule the talk shows.

In recent years tracking polls would seem to confirm the team with the most money and the tastiest sound bytes wins.

With seven days left, the media proclaims the only real issue is one of personality. George W. - a very pleasant and decent man - Al Gore - a Clinton confidant - a bit of bully. By this standard Harry Truman would not have received a single vote.

The facts are that George W. – albeit a pleasant fellow - has done very little of note with his life - but has cashed in fully on his family name and the network of cronies that want to help the engaging scion compensate for a near complete lack of talent. Fail to find oil in Texas - fire Bobby Valentine - trade Sammy Sosa - emerge a very wealthy man. Learn a few words of Spanish - legislate the right to carry concealed weapons in church - break all records in applying the death penalty - presidential timber.

Al Gore on the other hand, while not nearly as engaging a guy, and, by Bush standards a pauper, has had a most distinguished career in government having spent twenty-five years as a congressman, senator and vice-president, working largely on issues which most affect average families and a number of endangered species.

Gore has warts and often lets them show. While admittedly prone to exaggerate, he has taken thousands of public positions, constantly voting his conscience on the most contentious issues which confronted the country during both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Perhaps in addition to personality we ought to think about social justice for the people who elect presidents. Average families who just make ends meet, not the rich and well born, form the overwhelming majority of voters. Unhappily, not enough of them vote.

Repeal Roe v. Wade and the rich and wellborn will deal with the unwanted pregnancy as they always have, only the underprivileged will be back in the alley with the quacks.

Increase the minimum wage by one dollar and millions of working poor enjoy significant gains, not comparable to the five-year growth of the Dow Jones, but very substantial nonetheless.

Make children our top priority – not just the scions of privilege - but all babies - immigrants, minorities, the unwanted. For the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world, not to want to bend over backwards for our least fortunate, even at the risk of giving them a temporary advantage, is despicable.

The only purpose for a handgun is shooting people. About eighty percent of the world’s handguns are owned by Americans. Not surprisingly, we kill more people with handguns than any civilized nation on earth. Who in their right mind, no matter how much political pressure from the organized few, could oppose the most stringent controls - as has virtually the entire free world. Let hunters hunt - let target shooters shoot - let law enforcement enforce the law.

Social justice for the majority of our citizens has nothing to do with the personalities of the candidates, but creates a canyon of difference between the two. Neither a smirk nor an exaggeration will improve our inner city schools - reduce the national debt - or safeguard a poor woman’s right to choose.

Hopefully those ordinary people who really do elect presidents and are most affected by their decisions will decide that going back to an earlier time doesn’t make a lot of sense as, all up, the last eight years have been the best ever.