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Today marks the end of more than 18 months of presidential campaigning and I find myself suffering from a critical case of fatigue. During the process I've been through its various incarnations: charisma fatigue, Clinton fatigue, New Hampshire fatigue, "W. stands for..." fatigue, Tipper kissie-porn fatigue, Nader fatigue, DUI fatigue, soft money fatigue, focus group fatigue, lockbox fatigue, inspirational God story fatigue, alpha male fatigue, Karl Rove fatigue, Zogby poll fatigue, prescription drug fatigue, Spanish-speaking candidate fatigue, top 1 percent fatigue and surplus fatigue. I am exhausted -- this democracy thing is downright grueling. Our electoral process can kill us. I suppose part of the reason that this election tired me so much is that because right after Campaign '96 ended, even irrelevant players like Lamar Alexander and Steve Forbes literally moved to Iowa to drum up support. I wonder if perennial campaigning will just be part of what the future will be like. Scary as this may sound, Dan Quayle recently said that regardless of the outcome of today's election, he would take steps to prepare himself for 2004. What is this? Perhaps this is why the campaign has been so boring. Its script was written four years ago -- I first heard Karl Rove utter the term "compassionate conservative" the night Dubya won re-election back in 1998 -- and we are just getting to the part in each program where everyone lives happily ever after. Can't you see Rove sitting down at his desk in Austin and writing, "Erasing the horrors of the previous years, W. takes the election by a landslide with his mantra of being a uniter, not a divider?" He and his Democratic counterparts -- my favorite being Tony Coehlo -- have made the American public sit through the longest political soap opera ever written. As we come to the end of the story, both scripts have been increasingly divorced from reality. We were told that this election would be about what course America should take in an age of prosperity, when we have record surpluses and peace in the world -- to plot America's direction in the 21st century. Has anyone looked at how much the Dow is down lately? We are not exactly at the high point of the "greatest economic expansion ever," as Gore would have us believe. Then it seems everyone is having conniptions deciding how best to spend the surplus. We talk like it is still there, but as The New York Times reported two weeks ago, Congress has spent more than 40 percent of next year's surplus on pork barrel spending projects. Then we turn our attention to the peace and prosperity we have enjoyed. To what peace are the candidates referring -- terrorist attacks in Yemen, or perhaps strife between the Palestinians and Israelis or the lasting peace on the subcontinent? Scripting elections and following consultants' advice is nonsense. True leadership is not something that can be written in advance and tested on potato-chip-munching focus groups. It happens "in the arena," as Theodore Roosevelt said; it requires challenging people to grow, change, make a sacrifice of some flavor or another. The possibility of such leadership emerged for a moment last year when John McCain unleashed his stirring personal story and let candor loose throughout New Hampshire. In doing so, he won its primary decisively, although it waned the moment he actually won a primary and was forced "on message." McCain's challenge to inspire members of a new generation to take on a cause greater than themselves was his greatest applause line -- and there was a reason for that. While folks may not say so in focus groups, they are looking for leaders who will inspire them, who will say where the country should go next, who will convince them that they must be part of something greater than prescription drugs and tax cuts. There have been no applause lines in this campaign. Each candidate followed an exhaustingly scripted, narrow, tactical campaign of future surplus management and pandering to the elderly -- a campaign too small for such a great country. Tomorrow will be the first day of the presidential transition. Don't worry, I already had Colin Powell fatigue three weeks ago. Wake me up after the inauguration.

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