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Spare us, Mr. President

August 18, 1998

After half a year of dissembling and misleading everyone in the country - including his wife - about it, President Clinton on Tuesday admitted that he'd had a relationship with Monica Lewinsky that was "not appropriate." Although he expressed deep regret over what happened, he excused his lack of candor by saying that he was embarrassed by what he'd done and was trying to protect his family. Another person, someone capable of feeling shame and willing to accept the consequences of his actions, would resign. We don't expect that, although it would be the honorable thing to do.

Much has been made of the fact that this affair (or whatever it was) was part of the president's private life. But Lewinsky wasn't a private citizen, but a White House employee, and their dalliances took place in a taxpayer-funded residence.

Those actions were doubly foolish because they put the president in a position to be blackmailed by an individual or an organization which might not have had the nation's best interests at heart. Against such considerations, the president's private life must come second, and anyone who seeks the office knows that.

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Even worse, Clinton's actions gave new life to the investigation of Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who's spent $40 million over four years on a fishing expedition that yielded little, despite attempts to subvert the Constitution and legal principles like attorney-client confidentiality.

When Starr hauls this guppy of a report before Congress we expect this: Congressional Republicans will strike poses of moral indignation, the likes of which most couldn't muster when confronted with evidence that cigarettes were hooking thousands of youths every month. Then, realizing that bouncing Clinton would give Al Gore a head start on the next race, they'll back off.

In the meantime, important issues like tobacco legislation, Social Security funding and campaign reform won't get near the attention they should. Clinton should resign, sparing the nation additional distractions, but right now that seems too much to hope for.

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