The pundits agree that George W. Bush did well in the New Hampshire debate last night by avoiding profanities, not scratching himself in a rude animal fashion, and remaining vertical for the entire 90 minutes.

Merely maintaining consciousness is a thunderous triumph, akin to John Glenn's first orbit of the planet, when you've raised upwards of $57 million and have the endorsement of the entire Republican Establishment. Bush is just about home free is he continues to emit the occasional audible sound and blinks periodically (but not in some freakishly rapid manner).

John McCain, meanwhile, did well by not exploding in rage. The man has to make sure no jets of steam come out of his ears and nostrils. There's that temperament issue, you know. McCain was actually quite funny, especially in his excellent suggestion that, should something happen to Alan Greenspan, the Fed chief be preserved beyond death and propped up in dark glasses. That probably wouldn't affect Greenspan's intelligibility.

Alan Keyes feels like he doesn't get enough attention, so let's remedy that, albeit it with a single paragraph. We will suggest that his problem with news media coverage may conceivably have less to do with race than with the fact that he is a radio talk-show host who is seeking to make the presidency his first elective office. The fact that he gets as much coverage and attention as he does may be because so many other candidates are equally improbable, incredible and bizarre.

One moment stood out for me: When Brit Hume asked Bush what he reads. I thought Bush handled the question just fine, though he did seem to go on defense. He sensed that this was a potentially dangerous situation, that this was not a softball question but rather a tossed grenade. A little voice in his head probably said: "Don't say `Politics for Dummies'!"

Bush said he reads newspapers, and named four of them. Hume asked what else he read. Bush said he's reading a book about Dean Acheson, and likes mysteries and novels. Then he said, "But look, here's the test of a leader. A test of a leader is when given responsibility, can you perform? And I've got a record of leading. It's the second biggest state in the Union..." LINK TO EXCHANGE SENT EARLIER

He switched topics. Got it back to the leadership thing.

Now, I don't want to pick on the guy, the way some wiseacres LINK TO MY COLUMN ABOUT BUSH OF A FEW WEEKS AGO and snobs and Beltway elitists did a few weeks ago when he was ambushed about the names of those foreign leaders. He's right: Americans want a great leader, not a great reader. If we were going to pick our president based strictly on reading prowess, we'd have no choice but to elect Dirda.

You know Dirda, yes? The Post's Michael Dirda? The Michael Jordan of reading? The guy who's read every book written since Deuteronomy? Only weakness an irrational preference for Wodehouse and Waugh and those other funny Brits? Yeah, him. (Check out his online discussions. LINK TO DIRDA CHAT ARCHIVE PAGE It's like being guided through a vast and slightly eccentric bookshop, possibly located on London's West End.)

Dirda's down in Orlando, and this morning I asked how he'd answer the what-do-you-read question.

"What don't I read? I read cereal boxes, newspapers, European fiction in translation, funny novels, essays, other people's letters, just about anything I can get my hands on that's written in English."

But why. Why read?

"It's important to read because we are linear beings in a hypertext world. It allows us to explore all the kinds of lives. We can go down all kinds of paths. Life is made up of all kinds of roads and intersections. In life we get to go down one set of paths. We can't do everything. But books allow us to explore all kinds of options in life . . . And they're a lot of fun."

Great answer! Dirda for president!

Except I forgot to ask him his position on the World Trade Organization.

Rough Draft appears three times a week, at 1 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but only hassles George W. Bush on Wednesdays and Fridays.