The man most likely to feel vindicated about the current presidential scandal is neither gloating nor speaking triumphantly about it.

Former President George Bush, the man who lost re-election in 1992 to Bill Clinton, has more reason than most to be gleeful over the salacious allegations surrounding Clinton.That election year, Bush had watched in amazement as Clinton was able to sidestep character issues regarding Gennifer Flowers. But the election that year was neither about character or foreign policy - if it had been, Bush would have won. Instead it was about the economy. And it is that same issue, economic well-being, that has kept Clinton's popularity intact.

While Bush has every right to utter a giant "I-told-you-so" about Clinton today, he is not taking the opportunity because it's not his nature. "He was a gentleman president, and he is a gentleman ex-president," explains one close associate.

In a rare interview with our associate Dale Van Atta, conducted just a few weeks before the Monica Lewinsky affair broke in the press, Bush explained in his own words why he's shown such reserve amid growing evidence that he was right all along about the character issue.

"I stay out of most of this stuff," he remarked, in a question about the then-ongoing efforts to reform the campaign finance system. He told us he was thoroughly enjoying his active, but out-of-the-public eye presidential afterlife.

So you live a better life out of Washington politics, then?

"Much better! I literally do. I don't lobby - I think I've been to Capitol Hill maybe twice since I've left the presidency. And once was to unveil a portrait in the Capitol Hill Club. And I think that's all. And I certainly don't testify. I don't weigh in on these issues. And I stay off of most of these op-ed pages."

There are "several reasons" he says for this no-comment, out-of-sight policy. "One," he says, "I had my chance.

"Two, in spite of my differences with Clinton, I'm disinclined to try to be a constant carping voice, forever criticizing him.

"And three, I've got sons involved in politics." (Texas Gov. George W. Bush Jr. is a leading contender for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.)

The third reason is perhaps the most important, since anything that the elder Bush said would immediately become an issue for his political sons.

"If I take a position on soft money or foreign aid to Pakistan, (reporters would) all rush right there and say, `What do you boys think? Your nutty father's doing this!' And they'd try to make a story that way. So I'm not interested in that."

Interestingly, George Bush isn't taking time to write his memoirs - which makes him a presidential first. He felt his pre-presidential life was well-covered in his 1988 autobiography with Vic Gold. And his wife Barbara's book, he said, "beautifully portrayed the family side of our life, so it doesn't need me."

In lieu of a memoir, he is co-authoring a book with his national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, on foreign policy concerns during his presidency.

While he doesn't address Clinton scandals directly, he does talk about a climate of "sleaze" that "discourages young people" from going into a public service career. "That's the fallout from all this. I'm not just talking about the White House itself. All the allegations of sleaze has just been a terrible thing."

United Feature Syndicate, Inc.