BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Shame on you.
Shame on all of you, you 1st Congressional District voters.
You have made the pundits in Washington look bad. You have the campaign consultants scratching their heads.
Listen up, now and get this straight -- these high-priced talking heads who have been yammering on the network news shows for months about how this great bilious cloud of Bill Clinton will hang like a pall over this year's congressional elections are going to look like grade A mokes if you people don't get with the program.
You are supposed to be obsessed with sex. Presidential sex, that is. Or inappropriate behavior, if you went to the same school as Mr. Clinton.
When you fall out of bed in the morning, your first thought is supposed to be about that hussy Monica or that cad in the Oval Office. You're supposed to be so mad at Bill Clinton or Kenneth Starr or Henry Hyde or Linda Tripp that you can't hold your butter knife at the breakfast table, and you are supposed to stew in your own juices the rest of the livelong day.
But, no, you go about your business. You walk the dog, you go to work, you help the kids with their homework. And if you think about what's going on in Washington these days at all, it is only to reflect on what kind of abject losers have taken up nearly all the seats on both sides of the aisle.
We can't blame the Washington crowd entirely. After all, they are prisoners of The Beltway; and from their perspective, where the news is All Monica, All The Time it may well appear that the nation is transfixed.
We get phone calls all the time from Beltway inmates -- from network television, major publications -- and are always asked what impact the Clinton scandal will have on races like that between Republican incumbent Steve Chabot and Democratic challenger Roxanne Qualls in Ohio's 1st Congressional District.
When we answer, not much, probably, there is usually a pause on the other end of the line and the denizen of the Beltway says, Really? Really.
One week ago today, the candidates had the first of a series of four debates; this one in a sweat-box known as the Cheviot Field House.
Both candidates were peppered with questions, and had about two minutes each for their responses. The subject of President Clinton and his indiscretions and whether or not they rise to the level of impeachable offenses was the 10th question asked of the two candidates.
And this was by a panel of ravenous media wolves, who live for juicy sex scandals because they sell papers and jack up ratings, don't you know.
The question of what to do with President Clinton is a touchy one for both candidates in this race, one of the most closely watched House contests in the country.
Mr. Chabot is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which takes up the question of whether or not to proceed with impeachment hearings Monday. While no fan of Mr. Clinton, he is in the precarious position of trying to be judicious about the matter while being sufficiently disgusted by the president's behavior to satisfy his base of conservative voters.
Ms. Qualls, on the other hand, has been a Clinton ally -- the president took a personal hand in recruiting her to run for Congress; and she, too, must hew the party line while making sure everyone knows she was in no way happy about what was going on in the Clinton White House.
But the debate in this race -- both on the airwaves and in places like the Cheviot Field House -- has been about issues, everything from the government's role in education to health care to Social Security to partial-birth abortion. And the two candidates, so far, have taken starkly contrasting positions on most of them.
If voters are paying attention -- and chances are, now that the election is only four weeks away, more of them will -- they will see that there is a clear choice in this race.
In the end, it will be a choice between him and her.
And we don't mean Bill and Monica.
Howard Wilkinson's column runs Sundays. Call him at 768-8388 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org