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"Oil Prices Hit Lowest Level in 10 Years."

-- lead headline, Washington Post, March 18

WASHINGTON -- Low unemployment, no inflation, a record Dow, minuscule interest rates and now record-low oil. It doesn't get any better than this. You're driving to your new high-tech job in your three-ton gas-guzzling sport-ute (bought at 0 percent interest) on a tank full of 97-cent gas. And some media moralist is suggesting that you change presidents because of Kathleen Willey! Is he crazy?

Oh, lucky man. Nixon got the biggest oil price increase in human history right smack in the middle of Watergate. It begat shortages, recession and a national grumpiness. In less than a year he was out. In the middle of his Watergate, Clinton gets a 40 percent decline in the price of oil.

And it's pure luck: a warm El Nino winter, collapsing demand in Asia, OPEC oversupply and anticipation of Iraq's increased oil production -- we've raised Saddam's allowed exports to 75 percent of pre-Gulf War levels. Even screwing up Iraq policy works to this man's advantage.

The economy has never been this good. And Clinton's polls reflect the general contentment. His job-approval rating (not to be confused with character-approval) is holding steady in the mid-60s, historically high for any president. Two polls show his popularity rising after Willey's "60 Minutes" appearance.

Lucky for him, because the polls are all that stand between Clinton and ruin. They have made the already gutless Republicans afraid to attack him. And they've given mortified Democrats cover to remain mum. Let the polls even begin to fall and this man, with no friends in the Congress and no natural personal constituency, falls hard.

Result? There has never been a more poll-driven, spin-crazed second-term presidency in American history. And, as more luck would have it, this plays directly to Clinton's strength.

This will, however, be his toughest campaign ever. Willey is different. The Lewinsky affair is the stuff of farce. The Willey affair has pathos: A woman in distress finding the man she turns to for help forcing himself upon her at her moment of extreme vulnerability. With Willey, Clinton turns from cad to bad.

So bad that, why, even the feminists are upset. Willey stands out because she brought three things to the table -- coercion, class and credibility -- that not even Patricia Ireland could ignore.

Coercion. Ireland finally came forward because the Willey case -- unlike, say, Lewinsky's -- did not involve consent. "If it's true, it's sexual assault," says Ireland.

Class. Willey is no lounge singer or moony intern or flouncy big-hair. She looks like a soccer mom. Feminists were silent when "trailer park trash" claimed victimization at the hands of Clinton. They spring to life when a well-dressed, upper-class woman makes the same claim.

Credibility. Willey -- loyal Democrat, party contributor and volunteer, friend of the president -- is the last person that Hillary Clinton can point to as a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

So what does the Clinton smear machine do? Portray her as a gold digger. She sought a book deal.

But the prospective publisher, Michael Viner, said (on "Good Morning America") that Willey's lawyer approached him after she had given her Paula Jones deposition. She was a very reluctant witness. She had never come forward before. Once she was forced to put her story on the public record forever, the die was cast. Putting it subsequently in a book says nothing about her credibility.

Does Willey, then, begin the Clinton collapse? I doubt it. Americans continue to resist trading in their new Ford Explorer for clean government. I stand by the prediction I ventured when the Lewinsky story broke: He'll finish out his term as an Oval Office O.J.: Simpson, legally untouchable, will forever be despised as a killer and liar; Clinton, politically untouchable, will forever be disdained as a liar and a louse.

Fitting punishment. Driving him out of office would simply make him a martyr to, it would be said, hypocrisy and puritanism. Better that this man, who craves adulation more than anything, should campaign mightily just to stay afloat -- and finish out his term as the greatest object of presidential mockery since Warren G. Harding.

Washington Post Writers Group

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