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There must be a full moon over this election year

Jeb! Bush looked over the millions of potential running mates available to him and chose . . . Tom! Feeney!

I went back and read every word this newspaper ever printed about Feeney before Bush plucked him from obscurity earlier this year. It took me only a couple of minutes, and I didn't find the answer to the question that interests me most:

Is Tom any relation to Isotope Feeney?

Here's why I ask:

Back when I was a kid, Isotope Feeney was my favorite cartoon villain. He and Crabby Appleton were the chief tormentors of Tom Terrific and Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog.

I remember Feeney (Isotope, that is) as a mad scientist who was always scheming to ruin the lives of schoolkids like me. One time, he stole all the weekends and holidays from the calendar, which meant we had to go to school every day.

I can't remember how Tom (Terrific, that is) and Manfred solved that case. But we could use them now, because Tom Feeney, who is probably Isotope's nephew or something, has plans for Florida's public schools that are every bit as fiendish as anything Isotope ever concocted.

Feeney was pushing private school vouchers even before Jeb! fell in love with the idea. They would suck money out of the public schools to subsidize rich parents' private tuition payments.

But my favorite Feeney scheme came earlier this year when he tried to forbid the teaching of yoga in our public schools without parental consent.

"All I'm saying is, before you're going to do yoga, please go get mom and dad's permission," he said.

I'm still curious to know which aspect of the yoga experience makes Feeney nervous. Crossing your legs? Closing your eyes?

In any case, Floridians seem eager to elect this guy about whom they know so little. He might even be Isotope Feeney for all they know. And Jeb! has even less of a public record than Feeney.

Go figure.

Way back when I was young and impressionable, I sat and watched the American public elect Richard Nixon president twice. Once you've seen voters find a reason to clutch somebody that unlovable to their collective bosom, nothing else they do is going to surprise you all that much ever again.

Still, this is shaping up to be a strange and dismaying election year even as election years go.

The economy is strong, the deficit and the crime rate are down and we're not at war (if you don't count a couple of little police actions in Haiti and the Persian Gulf). But voters are in a surly mood for reasons I (and they) can't fully explain.

I think it's a case of collective midlife crisis.

People with nice jobs and nice spouses and nice friends and neighbors still think something's missing in their lives. So they get a toupee and a facelift and a tattoo and a convertible, and they start daydreaming about quitting their job and selling their house and falling in love with a circus performer.

And while they're at it, they decide that it might be a good idea to dump all their tried-and-true politicians in favor of handsome, fast-talking strangers who may be related to mad scientists.

It's happening all across the country. Speaking of strange and dismaying, there's Virginia, where dismaying (Chuck Robb) and strange (Ollie North) are in a tight battle for a U.S. Senate seat.

I can see why Virginians would not relish the prospect of sending Robb back to Washington. Robb used to be known as the man who turned the job of Lyndon Johnson's son-in-law into an extended political career. Now he is known as the only charmless middle-aged man in America who ever spent months trying to convince people that he didn't have sex with the beauty queen who came to his hotel room and gave him a nude massage.

But the consequence of voting Robb out of office would be to vote North in. And that would leave Virginians responsible for giving the country its nuttiest Washington demagogue since Sen. Bilbo carted his racist rump back to Mississippi.

Meanwhile, those inexplicable Californians may dump a pretty good senator, Dianne Feinstein, in favor of Michael Huffington, an eerily programmed non-entity who may or may not be the tool of the strange religious cult his wife may or may not belong to. People have very little hard knowledge of Huffington to go on, because he has manufactured a public image from scratch by dumping $20-million of his own money into the race.

Just for good measure, Californians also seem ready to send Sonny Bono to Congress. They'd probably be willing to send Cher, too, if she'd just get a last name and put it on the ballot.

George Mitchell is leaving Congress, and Sonny Bono is arriving. I know voters want change, but they should learn the difference between change and chump change.

And all across the country, yammering Newt Gingrich clones apparently will be rewarded for their success in blocking most of the worthy legislation Congress considered this year, from health care to lobbying reform.

Speaking of yammer, Ross Perot is telling whoever might still be listening to him to vote Republican this November so the GOP can win control of the House and Senate. It would serve the congressional Republicans right to be put in a position of actually having to do something for a change instead of just running their mouths for a living. Then they could be the targets of voters' blind rage two years from now after they fail to accomplish anything positive.

"When the public gets in this ornery a mood, there's no reasoning with them," says Thomas Mann, director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution.

They may even be ornery and unreasonable enough to elect Ollie, Sonny and Feeney. Just be glad Eeny, Meeny, Miney and Moe aren't on the ballot.