While the polls show that an increasing number of Americans think Clinton has lied about the Lewinsky matter . . . they also find the president still riding high in his job approval rating and that an increasing number have begun to question Starr's fairness.

Kenneth Starr's thin skin and his seeming inability to bring an investigation to a conclusion is working decidedly in President Clinton's favor.From the beginning, the odds were pretty slim that the president would resign or be impeached over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and they are getting longer with each day. The public is on the verge of saying "enough already!"

While the polls show that an increasing number of Americans think Clinton has lied about the Lewinsky matter (one would have to be stupid or saintly or maybe both not to think that), they also find the president still riding high in his job approval rating and that an increasing number have begun to question Starr's fairness.

A former federal judge, Starr is woefully short on experience as a prosecutor. Starr's image as a plodder on a moral crusade is not helped by his failure to end the Whitewater investigation after 41/2 years and $30 million.

His grinding, methodical approach may be classic case-building, but he is now dealing with a sex scandal involving the nation's most important citizen. It requires unusual techniques. Americans deserve to have this over with and not side-tracked by parallel investigations into who may be prying into the private lives of Starr and his chief aide and saying nasty things.

The answer to who is trying to discredit him is rather obvious. Darn near everyone in the White House, including Hillary Clinton. Have they tried to build a backfire? Of course they have, and to some degree they have succeeded.

Starr's conservative background and some injudicious moves (signing on to be a law dean for instance) during his tenure as Whitewater prosecutor have made him vulnerable. But those who are making the charges that Starr is part of a right-wing conspiracy should not forget that the sainted Archibald Cox of Watergate fame was a staunch ally of John F. Kennedy and no friend of Richard Nixon's.

In other words, everyone has some philosophical background, but the record of integrity should stand for something. It did with Cox, and it should with Starr.

Starr should not be surprised that he is the target of all the president's men, including his lawyers. But he should be above it and not in a position of losing the advantage of a balanced mainstream media by conducting a side inquiry that has serious First Amendment implications.

Few in the media want to defend the likes of Sidney Blumenthal, the White House aide who masqueraded as a journalist for a time and who authored a half-dozen plans ranging from discrediting reporters to Hillary's conspiracy theory. But Starr has left us little choice. Bad investigations bring bad results, just as bad cases make bad law. Starr knows this. A better reaction would have been one of silent disdain.

Who really cares what James Carville says? He has absolutely no credibility left, if he ever had any in the first place. Is he dangerous? Only if Starr lets him be.

Starr needs quickly to let the public know where this whole thing is going. He needs to get Lewinsky's overbearing, motor-mouth attorney off the airwaves and into negotiations for her testimony. No one really believes Starr is going to indict this young lady.And what good would that do anyway? Bring her before the grand jury and let the testimony fall where it may.

Starr also should make clear his intentions, informing the public on whether he will make a report to the House Judiciary Committee or if he actually believes that indictments are forthcoming. Who is a target? This isn't standard practice, but neither is the entire situation.

How many perjury counts can you bring? Nearly everyone has lied in this case and probably will continue to do so. Those who haven't seem to be in denial. Hillary Clinton as a youngster must never have missed the popular radio show "Let's Pretend."

Those who believe President Clinton will once again have slithered off the hook if he is not indicted or made the subject of impeachment hearings probably would be foolish enough to buy a used car from Carville. The rest of the president's tenure and the historical perspective of his administration, like Warren Harding's, will forever be tainted by this tawdriness.And Bill Clinton knows it.

So get on with it, Starr, and get it over with.