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Character really does count in our political leaders

Character counts in a political leader, despite what ideologically impaired defenders of Bill Clinton would have us believe. Those who lie and cheat in their private lives are prone to do likewise in matters of governance, fudging on figures and skimming as they go. Yet the truth about who and what someone is almost always comes clean over time, despite well-orchestrated spin cycles that deflect the heat as facades fade.

Ultimately, this real sense of self catches up with politicos and affects their decisions and actions. Credibility - or the lack thereof - always comes calling eventually. The instability of double-minded men and women in all fields of endeavor is too well documented to ignore. Political paths are littered with such leaders. Names like Kennedy, Packwood and Hart are a bipartisan sampling of those who attain ignominy through personal indecencies despite, arguably, enacting decent public policies en route.There are many who don't get nailed initially for repeated and deliberate hidden indiscretions, yet like oil, truth eventually comes to the surface - even posthumously. Deception often works for a season, but when winds blow and storms come - be they personal or political - paint and lacquer is stripped away and you get down to hardwood.

In Clinton's case, it's "wormwood."

A perceptive friend said years ago he would literally get sick to his stomach at the appearance of President Clinton. I encouraged him to quit listening to Rush Limbaugh and to transcend his visceral self. He promised to try but was never successful. Now, he appears the political prophet. Obviously, many others have shared his premonitions, fueled by the president's propensity for playing on the edge and for semantic hair-splitting to cover his increasingly exposed derriere.

Admittedly, it's easy to kick a man when he's down and to be a smug beneficiary of 20-20 hindsight, but anyone with a brain larger than a snow pea and a resting pulse rate above 10 cannot honestly be surprised at the mess Clinton finds himself in. That would even include his Democratic defenders, who merely assert that his boorish behavior has no bearing on how he does his job. They point to the polls to prove it. But how many moral mulligans does this guy get?

Before Paula Jones there was Gennifer Flowers and tapes and adamant denials, followed by recent belated confession; pot puffery without inhaling; a "lost" draft notice; Whitewater and travelgate; Webb Hubbell and John Huang; alleged liaisons arranged by Arkansas troopers; another alleged affair with Marsha Scott and charge of unwanted sexual advance toward former White House aide Kathleen Willey; countless "lost" documents; pilfering of FBI files for political purposes; White House coffees; now Monica Lew-in-sky and alleged subornation of perjury.

Sure, in all of this there's presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The moon also is made of green cheese. It isn't an issue of honest mistakes or inadequacies in a sincere civic servant, but one of perpetual deceit, dishonesty and fraud.

It is terribly ironic that, just last summer, Boy Scouts of America bestowed its Silver Buffalo award on Clinton for his exemplary service to youth. His demeanor at the ceremony mocked the portion of the Scout Oath pledging commitment to be "morally straight." That did not go unnoticed to perceptive young men and leaders there, who proffered the president a tepid reception while remaining respectful of his tarnished office.

Presidential political allies, including Hillary and former White House interns, have of course rushed to Clinton's defense and unleashed the attack dogs. This time, however, their barking and frothing belies a complete lack of teeth. "Right-wing conspiracy?" Sure. The only risk to Kenneth Starr in this political counterattack is being gummed to death.

What innocent former interns might be asking themselves is not how in the world the president could have found time for such hankie-pankie amid other affairs of state, but instead: "Why didn't he know my dress size?"; "He never called me at midnight or hugged me at receptions!"; "Where was my unlimited access to Mr. Clinton and his to me?"; and "Where was Vernon Jordan when I was preparing my resume?"

Those having had lesser internships could feel cheated, but at least not, as Lewinsky now apparently feels, cheated on and used. Her sentiment of betrayal - and you've got to believe Hillary's, buried beneath years of sedimentized stoicism - is one shared by millions of decent Americans as well.

There are still many who, perhaps clinging to idealistic naivete, expect more of the presidency and who believe principles ultimately influence policy.