I guess I was hoping for a miracle.

I didn't vote for Bill Clinton, but he is my president. Monday night he had a chance to salvage a damaged presidency. It's wrong to expect perfection. None of us is perfect nor has any previous president been perfect. But we have a right to expect honesty and proper conduct in the highest office in the land.But instead of seeking higher ground by admitting his grievous errors and taking full responsibility for the torturous investigation of the past seven months, he unfortunately stuck to his poorly aimed guns. His forced confession turned into yet another vehicle to attack Ken Starr. It was "Slick Willie" on overdrive. The nation did not need that Monday night.

Ten months ago I wrote, "William Jefferson Clinton has diminished the office of the president. It's up to the voters to see that the presidency regains its stature in the year 2000. That means electing someone with integrity and dignity."

That Oct. 10, 1997, column ran three months before the nation knew there was a woman named Monica Lewinsky.

The past seven months, beginning with that infamous finger-wagging declarative, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky" our 42nd president has not only diminished the nation's highest office, he's embarrassed it to an unprecedented degree.

I didn't trust Clinton before the Lewinsky affair. What hope is there now for anyone to give him their trust? Even though Bob Dole thought the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, he was trustworthy. He's not exactly Mr. Charisma, but he's not Mr. Loophole either. He might have been attacked on policy issues had he gained the presidency, but his personal life would not have been constant fodder for the tabloids and late-night TV talk shows.

Clinton talked about how the investigation had "gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people. . . . It's time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life."

Why, oh why, Mr. President, didn't you think about that seven months ago? And does anyone think that, had solid evidence supporting Lewinsky's story not come forth, Clinton would have testified Monday? Hadn't he already denied requests six times to do so? Is there anyone who doesn't believe it was only after being served a subpoena that he "voluntarily" came forward?

Still, he had a chance to pick up the ball he so miserably dropped seven months ago and at least get it headed toward the right basket. Instead, he dribbled it off his foot out of bounds.

How must his support staff feel - Ann Lewis, Paul Begala, Lanny Davis, Rahm Emanuel etc. - who week after week went on national TV programs proclaiming Clinton's innocence because they believed what he had told them and the nation was true.

Press Secretary Mike McCurry had the right approach when he said he didn't want to know what happened and that way he couldn't deceive the media and the public about something he didn't know.

The president may or may not survive the last two years of his term. A lot depends on what Starr presents to Congress.

The glorious chance the president had of helping his cause and therefore the nation's was badly botched.

There will be better men and women serve in the years to come, Democrats and Republicans who take the office and what it stands for seriously.

The country deserves to have quality candidates to choose from. That was the case in 1976 when Jimmy Carter opposed then President Gerald Ford; in 1980 when then-President Carter opposed Ronald Reagan and in 1984 when then-President Reagan opposed Walter Mondale. It was a win-win situation for the electorate.

That changed in 1992. It needs to change again in 2000. We are a nation of learners and we will learn from what has transpired. This country, truly the greatest in the world, will go forward, the frailty of some of our leaders nothwithstanding.