You couldn’t write a novel that would be any more tawdry than what Bill Clinton has foisted upon America’s 6 o’clock news. You wouldn’t want to. Recommendation: Call your local HazMat team, this is a presidential chemical spill of epic proportions.

President Clinton gave his version of an apology Monday night, finally admitting what the rest of America already knew: That he’d had an affair with a subordinate—an action that were he a business executive would get him fired faster than rounds out of an M-16.

This apology was, by most accounts, terribly insufficient, but it had the benefit of being both brief and quasi-honest, which is to say about as good as it gets with this president. Certainly it’ll do for starters, but this sordid mess is far from over. I don’t know what will be in independent investigator Ken Starr’s report to Congress, but at minimum it should charge the president with “perjury” and “being an idiot beyond all belief.” Given the country’s track record with Reagan and Bush, that latter offense is hardly impeachable, but frankly, lying under oath is more than enough for me and many Congressmen to say “hit the road, Jack” (and don’t you come back, no more, no more, no more, no more), despite the wonderful economic conditions we’ve enjoyed in recent years.

For if you can’t trust a person to tell the truth under oath, what can you trust? Bill Clinton has violated his oath of office, repeatedly disregarded his marriage vows, lied in his sworn grand jury deposition, and misled the American people. How can anyone, including his wife, trust him with anything he says? It’s mind-boggling that the president’s public approval ratings can stay so high in the face of evidence that indicates his lying is almost borderline pathological.

I know it’s the contention of many people that the president’s sex life is none of the public’s business, and to the extent that it’s not part of a civil or criminal investigation, I couldn’t agree more completely. I have absolutely no desire to learn about the president’s genitalia or what he does with it. But there is no part of anyone’s life that is off-limits so far as the law is concerned. Yes, presidents and their families are entitled to private lives while in office, but abuse of power makes everything fair game.

This is why, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again (and again and again), character matters. In Bill Clinton we have a president without any. I don’t mean that maliciously or in a mean-spirited fashion. It’s just that Clinton’s moral compass has always spun like he worked in magnet-making factory, throwing him and his policy positions hither and yon as he attempted to read the tea leaves of the public opinion polls. This is not how good leadership works, but it’s how his leadership works, and that’s why, at the end of the day, when you ask what Bill Clinton stands for, you get answers like “unlimited sexual perks in the Executive Branch.”

And, sadly, despite the president’s rather commendable pseudo-honesty on Monday night, we also got a lot of what is worst about the president. First, he again shaded the truth in an attempted political and legal dodge. Second, he refused to apologize directly to anyone. (An aside: Surely he at least owes an apology to the loyal White House staffers who took him at his word for months only to find he’d given them a knife in the back.) Third, he mounted an attack on Ken Starr.

This last item was particularly outrageous given Clinton’s own behavior. The president has impeded Starr’s investigation at every turn, and I dare say that this whole matter could’ve been concluded months ago if it weren’t for one Clinton legal challenge (and loss) after another. Attacking Starr is really a twist on the “blame the messenger” routine. It’s not like Starr had affairs with subordinates, lied under oath, or obstructed justice. This was self-wrought destruction and while Starr might be the one sticking it to Clinton legally, none of the above-mentioned problems are Starr’s fault.

I think it’s time to get used to saying, “President Gore.” And that’s probably a good thing.