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Open your eyes, I am the gladiator

Why can't people see it?

I am Maximus.

He is Commodus.

I am the handsome gladiator who has proved himself in the arena.

He is the beady-eyed loser son of the emperor.

But when will the crowds start screaming my name?

Al-bert-us! Al-bert-us! Al-bert-us!

Tipper's the only one who ever screams my name.

I feel like I'm trapped in some Bizarro universe where all the roles are reversed. People think I'm dumb and sniveling and he's experienced and commanding.

Give . . . me . . . a . . . break.

A new poll in the New York Times says Americans think Bush is a better leader than I am. I'm losing in all my key demos _ Northeasterners, Catholics, independents. Women don't like me. Men really don't like me.

The Times ran a headline the other day, "Women Appear Unmoved by Gore." How embarrassing is that? One woman they interviewed called me a "jerk." Another called me "a snake in the grass" with "a big smirk."

I don't smirk. He smirks.

Some other woman said she didn't think I was "smart enough" to be president.

I'm not smart enough?

Puh-leese.

I'm running against a guy who refers to "tariffs and barriers" as "terriers and bariffs." He calls "handcuffs" "cuff links."

How could you trust Bush to be in charge of "tactical nuclear weapons" when he can't even pronounce it? "Unleash the tacular weapons, general!" How could President Bush Jr. even call for a "missile launch" when he calls it a "mental loss." Mental loss is right.

Women think I'm not smart because I talk slow-ly and de-lib-er-ate-ly.

Don't they understand that I talk slow-ly and de-lib-er-ate-ly to give them a chance to catch up?

Maybe nice guys do finish last.

The polls show I'm doing worse with married women than either Bill or Rudy. And I actually like my wife.

Do women prefer bad boys? Is that what this is all about? Fine. I can be a bad boy. I can do a bad, bad thing.

Note to self: Drop the earth tones. Buy a black leather jacket.

Men don't like me because I'm always trying to be perfect. They don't trust me. They don't want to be in a foxhole with me. They think I'd turn them in. Like that stupid Leno joke about how I'm the annoying kid in school who reminds the teacher, "You forgot to give us homework!"

I know what people want in a president. They want a good guy. Not some stiff like Michael Dukakis reading books about Swedish crop rotation.

I've tried hard to be a guy. I started lifting weights. I got different clothes.

But everybody in the Texas Legislature blathers about what a great guy Bush is. And everybody who was in the Senate with me complains I was a loner and a showboat.

Behind the scenes at the White House, I was the one trying to stiffen Bill's backbone on the budget, gays in the military, Bosnia.

Now people think I have no backbone.

I pay top dollar to Coelho and Shrum and their big advice for me is to pander on Elian? I know how to pander. I know how to flip-flop. Like I need to pay people to teach me how to do that?

The polls say voters like my issues. They just don't like me.

It must be the Clinton curse. Everyone who gets anywhere near that couple gets snakebit.

I just seem to get it coming and going. People blame me for Bill's sleaziness at the same time they blame me for not having Bill's charm.

People say they want a fighter, but when I attack Bush as Risky Man, they think I'm mean and desperate.

Bush gets all the breaks. First he gets McCain to meet with him. Now he's planning a powwow with Colin Powell.

He has even put Bob Jones behind him, and persuaded Americans he's the candidate of the middle. That's my real estate!

Sheesh.

Oh, well. I'm always at my best when my back's against the wall.

Bring on the tigers!

In this life or the next, Commodus, I will have my vengeance.

+ Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist. +

New York Times News Service

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