What's the difference between Macbeth and McGovern?

Macbeth is a tragedy and McGovern a comedy.At least that's what you'd be led to think by the hooting and knee-slapping when it comes to George McGovern and his "threat" to run again for president.

Rather than play dead during the ideological rout that's going on in this Land of the Free, McGovern has said he'll keep the Democratic seat warm until a candidate with a better chance shows his face. Good for him.

The Gores and Nunns and Cuomos are in hiding, allowing themselves to be flushed out only long enough to admit they would never be so treasonous as to question the wisdom of 87 percent approval ratings. They find themselves in the awkward position of waiting out a barrage of good news; politically, you just can't fight a won war.

Why risk political futures by challenging what's wrong in society? And there's still a lot wrong . . .

At least McGovern has established convictions. It takes courage these days to hint that you prefer alternatives to war, or to suggest that America has not lived up to her potential.

McGovern is a decent, smart, experienced, peace-loving veteran who once won the votes of 29 million Americans.

To hear most conservative stalwarts guffaw, you'd think McGovern hadn't garnered a vote in 1972. And it's not as if the 47 million who went with Richard Nixon that year were vindicated.

Why is McGovern running for president funnier than the Republicans grooming Dan Quayle for 1996?

Have you noticed just how visible the vice president has been during the gulf war? At every conceivable photo opportunity he's there by Bush, not unlike Millie - always on a leash, ever devoted and having his material written for him.

To many people, some of them Republicans, President Quayle sounds at least as funny as President McGovern.

Why is Barry Goldwater revered as some kind of senior statesman now and McGovern considered a joke? Goldwater's defeat by liberal Democrats was just about as big a whopper as McGovern's, give or take a couple of million. Why isn't he ridiculed and roasted?

Why? Because Goldwater is the acknowledged father of the prevailing ideology.

In a democracy there are always winners and losers, and if there is not room for the losers it ceases to be a democracy.

I remember when people would chuckle and raise an eyebrow after reading about some Russian "election" where a candidate got 98 percent of the vote.

"Oh, sure," we mumbled, eyes rolling, glad to live in a land of diversity and choices. A land of at least two parties and a whole bunch of candidates.

Do we want a nation where there are no dissenters? A land where it's standard practice to turn your mind over to the government and accept without question every official statement by self-serving politicians of either party?

Do we want a country where the military and administration are indistinguishable? This country has fathered more than its share of banana republics but has so far avoided becoming one.

For all the tiresome and laughable antics of modern campaigns, are we really comfortable with this eerie quiet in New Hampshire and Iowa?

To be sure, the administration is basking in the afterglow of a policy success and ambitious men will crawl out of the woodwork before the smoke has cleared.

But we would do well to remember that politicians and candidates, like insects, are indispensable in the life cycle.

It might be funny if George McGovern runs for president, but it would be tragic if he couldn't.