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I'd like to thank Rudy Giuliani for the last couple days of lunch table gossip.

With Bill Clinton in his presidential sunset and "Beverly Hills, 90210" going off the air, the cultural titillation meter was barely moving. We'd been reduced to boring each other with weather updates and tales of our kids' soccer exploits.

Then came Rudy.

For the past couple of days, the Senate candidate's real-life soap opera has been better than anything on the tube. The gene that craves gossip needs constant feeding, and the New York City mayor accommodated with a plateful.

We're entertained, he's embarrassed and -- if he handles this right -- in a week it will be ancient history.

And that's the way it should be.

When a moralistic Senate candidate's crippled marriage explodes, with not one but two other women, everybody's inner voyeur craves details.

That it happened to a guy who wants the Ten Commandments posted in public schools -- No. 6: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery -- makes it even juicier. The only thing that grabs us more than a philandering politician is a hypocritical one. Which, by the way, legitimizes the deal journalistically: When a politician preaches one thing and practices another, it's news.

Rudy turned the heat up on himself, handling things with all the tact of Mike Tyson at a nude beach. Questioned at a press conference about his relationship with another woman, Giuliani announced a marital separation. His wife said it was news to her -- and, by the way, this isn't the first "other woman" in my husband's life. Which left Rudy with a lot of explaining to do, at home and at the office.

Somebody forgot to tell Giuliani about the 11th Commandment: Don't announce your separation without first running it by your wife.

It's not quite up there with presidential cigar tricks, but it'll hold our interest for a day or two.

Here's what happens now: Rudy sweats in public, gets some crisis counseling and -- if he's smart -- says he screwed up. He's embarrassed, but -- because he says he's sorry -- probably doesn't take a fatal political hit.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the way it should be.

Make an act of contrition, vow never to do it again and people shouldn't hold it against you in November.

"If he says he made a mistake and is sorry, it has great power with the public," said Joe Slade White, a political consultant who has worked with national Democratic candidates. "This may even help him, if it makes him seem more human."

Granted, there's a chance he buckles under the weight of this mess and his prostate cancer. My guess is he's stubborn enough to stick it out.

I hope he does. As much as it pains me to say it, politicians are people, too. When it comes to personal messes, they ought to get the same slack as anybody else.

Some lament public forgiveness of a politician's personal sins as a sign of sinking standards. I think it's evidence we've all grown up.

Revelations of JFK's Olympian extramarital activities, news that even dishwater-dull Eisenhower had something on the side, and daily looks in the mirror led to an inevitable conclusion: Everybody has some clay in their feet.

We didn't make Bill Clinton pay politically for his personal sins. He had the morals of a stray dog, but a pretty good handle on the presidency. People separated the personal from the professional. Behaved, in other words, like adults.

Which doesn't mean Clinton got off scot-free. Hardly. He was publicly humiliated and his legacy irretrievably stained. That's a fair price for messing around with an office intern.

Same with Rudy. He behaved badly, was publicly embarrassed and needs to clean up his mess. But unless he keeps juggling two women and rubs everybody's face in it, most folks won't hold it against him in November.

Most folks realize there are plenty of fine public servants who fool around on their spouses. Who find another pair of warm arms in Albany or Washington or wherever their home away from home is. How good a husband Giuliani is has nothing to do with how good a Senator he might be.

I'm more concerned with Giuliani's disdain for unarmed victims of the New York City police than his weekends in the Hamptons with a woman other than his wife. He's running for the Senate, not sainthood. Most folks, to their credit, understand that.

Which is why I think Giuliani will take care of this business and march on. And we'll find something else to talk about at the lunch table next week.

Rudy may have broken a commandment. That's no reason to nail him to the political cross.

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