So much has been, is being, and will be written about the difficulty in which President Clinton finds himself, I am hesitant to add to the pile. The millions of meaningless words that justify or condemn him range from the serious to ribald, and sometimes both. I have a deep-seated feeling most of the journalistic information emerging fits more properly into the category of gossip, rank speculation fully worthy of British tabloids. What pertinent commentary, if any, might be expressed to restore a bit of perspective to our beltway soap opera?

First, under our constitution, a man is innocent until proven guilty.

Second, impeachment proceedings may be lodged against a sitting president for charges of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Third, regardless of contemporary morality, a high percentage of Americans expects its presidents to uphold an exemplary lifestyle, and to give the appearance of highly ethical and deeply religious behavior.

I suppose the first two items are easily overlooked or ignored. After all, they are mentioned only in high school civics classes. The third stems naturally from the desire of people to look to respected, dispassionate, and mature leaders for guidance and wisdom. Unfortunately, over the centuries, leaders in all human cultures have been found to possess prominent clay feet, and the narrow gulf from saint to sinner is easily bridged . Chance encounters or, for want of a better word, fate, frequently reveal those supposed to set ethical and moral standards fail to live up to them.

Perhaps we expect more of our president than we should of human flesh, and in doing so Americans invite deception and set themselves up for hypocrisy. It is really no outsider's business, but the White House is a fish bowl and demands circumspect behavior from its occupants.

The media have responded in full cry to the prospective Clinton embroglio, and in this era of instant communications they have presented gossip and innuendo in a manner suggestive of fact. It is not responsible journalism's finest hour. At worst, if the rumors prove to be true, the alleged relationship between Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton would be adultery between consenting adults. I can dismiss the potential perjury charge as nonsense for the primary reason that Mr. Clinton is simply too smart a lawyer to have baldly told Miss Lewinsky to lie. Could he have asked her to be discreet, and never disclose to anyone else what happened during their moments of privacy? Of course. Wouldn't anyone? What is the chance those remarks would convince any judge or jury to find him guilty of suborning perjury or obstruction of justice? Zero. Nil. There will be no high crimes or misdemeanors.

Given the just-mentioned scenario, would the world believe that Mr. Clinton was a rounder, womanizer, and a cad? You bet your life it would. And that is the downside of the regrettable incident. The office of the presidency is demeaned, and an institution of long-standing dignity, stability, and decency has become the laughing stock of the world, the source of salacious jokes and bawdy humor. Can our country live with it? Sure! But in the event it comes to war with Iraq or in Bosnia, American soldiers, sailors, and marines will not unhesitatingly die for this president. Of that, at least, he is guilty.

To the amazement of our media, last week's polls showed most people believe it is scurrilous to pry into a man's private business. Mr. Clinton and his administration have governed in a period when unemployment is very low, our annual deficit has been reduced nearly to zero, and the nation is at peace. There is money in their pockets and people are inclined to be tolerant.

One fundamental observation may be made from all this media frenzy. What Magic Johnson did for AIDS, Ellen DeGeneres did for gays, and Dr. Kevorkian did for euthanasia, Bill Clinton has done for oral sex. It is now a parlor word, with people such as Peter Jennings, obviously uncomfortable at pronouncing it on TV, having swallowed hard and bitten the bullet, so to speak, to discuss the topic. It seems fair to summarize by saying everything about this entire episode has stuck in people's throats.

Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)