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BUDDY IS THE ONLY ONE THERE WE CAN TRUST

At last I have found something I can agree with columnist Bill Safire about. Our disagreements go back a ways, to when Richard Nixon was president and had Safire on his payroll and me on his enemies list -- twice and with an asterisk. But now I must hail him for a splendid piece of prose he wrote recently: an open letter from Buddy to his master, Bill Clinton. It is an appeal for a stay of sentence to be neutered.

I pledged three weeks ago to give up sex-scandal mongering until something new actually occurs. I am not stealing back into the swamp via the kennel entrance. This is a freestanding outrage. It's not about adultery, affidavits, perjury, passes, impeachment, book deals, talking points or lewd advances in the Oval Office. It has nothing to do with Kenneth Starr, the budget-busting Savonarola who sent to Japan for a witness who went to school with Monica Lewinsky. It's about how a man treats his best friend.

In his short life, Buddy has been a model of constancy and fidelity, which is more than is said about his master. He gives unconditional love. He doesn't ask for anything except to doze under the desk and retrieve tennis balls. He doesn't cry or ask for work, or go running to the grand jury, or tape or leak. Buddy is housebroken.

Like all dogs, he understands his job. He must reassure his master, lick his hand and make him feel like the most important person in the world.

Buddy seems to have been born knowing that his master is emotionally needy. When others come and go, Buddy gives them a raised eyelid. When Himself shows up, Buddy springs to his feet, saluting. When this godlike creature unaccountably puts him out of the Oval Office when a meeting is being convened, Buddy barks to remind him of the mistake he makes so often: not knowing who his true friends are.

And what is the reward? He's going to be whacked. Why now? Certainly the full-time spinners on the White House payroll could have noticed the grotesque timing and the obscene cartoons and one-liners that would ensue. Certain background dissonances cannot be controlled. For instance, "Don Giovanni," Mozart's masterwork about a wolf, is closing a brilliant run at the Washington Opera Society. The captions played over the stage could have come out of the day's paper, and audiences did a lot of nervous twittering. What a grand jury witness the Don would have made. He kept meticulous records of his conquests. He is done in eventually by a statue, gray and stony-faced, who looks a lot like Starr, as some in the audience noted.

Poor, sweet, skinny Buddy has brought out the side of Clinton that is worse than what has been alleged about his job-counseling activities: his habit of turning his back on those to whom he has made promises. Buddy now joins the gays, the Haitians, the Chinese dissidents, Lani Guinier, the Democratic Party and others whom he has callously exploited -- doing the politically correct thing to exhibit civic virtue.

He maybe never told Buddy specifically that he would not take him to the vet's for neutering, but the dog may have taken it for granted. He will do no carousing, fathering litters better unborn. As Safire had Buddy say in the letter he had him write to the president, "If I get lost, 20 guys lose their jobs."

Again I ask. If Clinton gets caught, why should Buddy pay? Don't worry; I'm not going to get into comparisons with some of the humans who have been biting Clinton in the ankle lately. The only thing Buddy could have done to save Clinton from himself was to screen female visitors for book deals. Had he checked out the latest lady -- a handsome, bankrupt widow with halting voice and high cheekbones -- things would have been different. She was many cuts above the other job-seekers, and made an impression on consequential commentators -- although not on the perverse public, which gave him yet another boost in the polls.

I long ago lost my papers as a Clinton soothsayer. In 1992, I was sure he would not survive the New Hampshire primary. All I can say now is that any other politician would long since have gone under in all this lascivious second-term slapstick. But with this Dogpatch Don Giovanni, you just never know.

Do I have a dog in this fight? I sure do. It's Buddy, the only true heart around.

Universal Press Syndicate