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"I, Colin Luther Powell, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

President Powell, sworn in on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, would not be under investigation by a special prosecutor for ongoing legal and ethical charges involving Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate.President Powell also would not be under a Justice Department investigation for the greatest worldwide collection of legal and illegal campaign funds in U.S. history.

And President Powell would not take office with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding whether to grant him immunity during his presidency from a sexual-harassment suit that charges him with groping and exposing himself to one of his state employees who his inner-circle described as trailer-park trash, as though that explains everything.

Neither would President Powell assume his duties as the nation's leader hounded by charges that he had routinely used government employees to solicit women for him, that he had engaged in duplicity to avoid military service or that he had built a career based on public opinion polls.

President Powell would have the moral authority to march over to Capitol Hill and shame the warring Democrats and Republicans into acting like responsible adult leaders instead of the Bloods and Cryps in a death struggle over turf.

It's a toss-up whether the ethics in Congress is better or worse than the ethics in the White House. In a plea bargain with the House ethics committee, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich admitted that he repeatedly misled Congress involving the use of tax-exempt funds for non-profit organizations used for political purposes.

The Democrats are out to smear the Republicans and Gingrich, just as Gingrich and the Republicans are out to smear the Democrats and President Clinton, who is out to smear Paula Jones and his other critics. It's a vicious circle of smears that makes Americans distrust their government, which can start an unraveling impossible to mend.

Another ethics committee needs to be appointed to investigate the House ethics committee, which unethically decides issues based on party affiliation, not on ethics.

Clinton and Gingrich shook hands on a promise to institute campaign finance reform. The next thing Americans heard was a giant sucking sound as the two political parties vacuumed up huge piles of money from every source imaginable.

The continued ethical deterioration displayed by Democrats and Republicans in the nation's capital sets a dismal example for all Americans, many of whom are willing to shrug their shoulders and say, "What the heck, they all do it."

Clinton's marital infidelity is excused because Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Dole supposedly did the same.

If the Democrats distort a Republican program, does that make it right for Republicans to distort a Democratic program?

If there are no ethical limits on our national leaders, can we expect ethical limits on our state and local leaders? Can we punish a child for lying if the nation's highest leaders routinely lie with impunity? Are we to the point that we set lower standards for our highest officials?

In the best of all worlds, Colin Powell would have rejected both parties after retiring as the nation's highest ranking military officer. Running for president as an independent, Powell would have been sworn into office prepared to show by example that two wrongs do not make a right. They make two wrongs.