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THEY SHARE COMMON GROUND BUT STAND ON OPPOSITE SIDES

SHARE THEY SHARE COMMON GROUND BUT STAND ON OPPOSITE SIDES

Cliff Jackson shares his year of birth, his small-town Arkansas roots and an Oxford education with Bill Clinton.

That old school tie may bind too tightly to suit Clinton supporters, who have seen Jackson's hand in the campaign-year draft-dodging controversy, last December's "troopergate" and, now, the sexual harassment civil suit filed against the president by Paula Corbin Jones.Jackson says he dislikes being called Clinton's archenemy and winced when a recent Newsweek story labeled him "relentlessly odious." But he did chuckle about other stories that have dubbed him Clinton's Captain Ahab or Lex Luthor.

"I never intended to be his enemy," Jackson says. "I'm not bitter. I'm not a rabid, right-wing radical. Contrary to what you hear, I don't spend my time obsessing over my past or his."

For the past two years, however, Jackson has been a point man for anti-Clintonites, the answering machine in his home law office often filling with dozens of callers wanting to share supposed dirt.

Unlike other foes of the president, Jackson appears driven more by the personal, not the political.

So what makes Cliff Jackson continue to stalk his old classmate, flinging harpoons?

Is he jealous of the president's success? Did Clinton once steal a girlfriend from him? Didn't Clinton pass Jackson the ball enough when they were Oxford basketball teammates?

No, no and no, Jackson insists.

Instead, he says, he feels a duty to the nation.

"This is about abuse of the public trust. It's about compromising of the principle until there's no principle left to compromise," he says. "I think it's not good for the presidency for responsibility and accountability to be avoided."

Discussing himself and Clinton for more than an hour over coffee one evening, Jackson dismisses "all the psychoanalyzing about why I am doing what I'm doing now."

"I am happy with my life," he says, after repeatedly rebutting suggestions of personal motives.

But a combination of factors emerges from the lengthy conversation, with tears welling at times in Jackson's eyes as he discusses his personal convictions.

There are his politics, which tend to be conservative and Republican; his religious upbringing in the Assembly of God Church; and a longstanding feeling that Clinton once used him in an effort to avoid the draft.

At times, Jackson praises Clinton's abilities and fondly recounts conversations, letters and even their winning teamwork in intramural basketball. But he also portrays Clinton as superficial, deceitful and telling people what they wanted to hear, while surrounding himself with people who do the same for him.

In 1990, Jackson helped form a political action group called Alliance for a Rebirth of an Independent American Spirit, which ran anti-Clinton ads in New Hampshire before the Democratic primary in 1992.

Then, it started getting personal.

Jackson released letters and other information indicating that he used his Republican influence during Vietnam to gain Clinton an ROTC deferment - which Clinton then discarded.

Jackson called that "a betrayal" of him by Clinton. He also knew that when the story broke, "I had crossed the Rubicon. I knew Clinton was going to take it very personally."

Clinton's campaign survived the draft controversy, as it had the claims of a years-long, illicit affair by Gennifer Flowers, which Jackson makes a point of saying he had nothing to do with.

But it spurred him to analyze when a public figure's "zone of privacy" was overtaken by other factors such as abuse of public office and deceit, which he wrote down in a four-page statement with an off-color title.

It was this analysis, he says, that led him into "troopergate."

He was contacted last year about helping some Arkansas state troopers make public their allegations that they helped arrange and provide cover for the then-governor's sexual escapades.

After the stories broke, the furor died down within days.

But Jackson insists his critics missed the point - that "trooper-gate" was not about sex, but about misuse of state employees.

Last month's apparently unprecedented lawsuit against the president by Jones, a former state employee who says Clinton sexually pressured her in 1991, started when she was identified by her first name in one "troopergate" story as a willing sexual partner for Clinton - an accusation she denies.

Jackson still considers himself Clinton's friend. In fact, he even wrote a letter to Clinton after "troopergate."

Of course, he also sent it to dozens of reporters.