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I can picture the scene quite vividly. Mr. Clinton looked both serious and presidential as he raised himself up to his full height, his eyes focused narrowly. The emotion caught in his throat. He spat his words measuredly as he wagged his finger at a nation.

It was a most convincing denial. Perhaps it should have brought to mind a similar denial about Gennifer Flowers, later recanted.

It was that scene enacted when the Lewinsky affair first broke that would not leave my mind as I listened to the words of the president's "confession."

That is President Clinton's greatest strength, the ability to convince. Now they would have it that we were not the only dupes. Through guile, charm or blandishments, he was able to get both family and Cabinet to carry the lie to us. Mrs. Clinton played her role with special gusto as she stormed the talk-show circuit, accusing vast conspiracies of conjuring the problem from thin air. Neither did the other defenders lack faith in their message. How abandoned they must have felt as the president's words hit the airwaves.

But just as he had done in the Flowers case and through all of his public life, Mr. Clinton only acknowledged the obvious and unavoidable. Though he claimed to accept responsibility, he sought to avoid the consequences that come with true responsibility for one's actions.

Further, he attempted to define and limit the issues to those concerning sex and privacy, thus playing for public sympathy and avoiding the treacherous legal ones of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The entire attack on the special prosecutor was in point of fact an attempt to shift the blame and avoid culpability. Many a medieval theologian would have been proud to adopt as his own the sophisticated, legalistic reasoning the president used to defend and define his position. Sex was not really sex. Lies were not lies as such. With such sophomoric intellectual gymnastics, he may satisfy himself and the true believer, but the law may be a different matter. The legal definition of perjury also involves the intent to deceive.

Finally, Clinton called on us as a nation to turn away from the very situation he had created, with too much money spent and too many innocents hurt. But was it not the delaying obstructionist tactics of the past six months that drained our coffers and bloodied those victims?

A fitting leader for our times, the president makes himself out to be the victim in this situation, blaming those appointed by his own Justice Department to seek justice.

With his speech of Aug. 17, the president seemed to be calling on us to judge him by his own standards. In 1974, while running for an Arkansas congressional seat during the height of the Watergate scandal, Bill Clinton called for the resignation of any president lying to the American public. I ask him: Mr. President, should this be the standard we apply?

Robert B. Palaszewski West Seneca

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