There are not a whole lot of things admirable about Rep. Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican who has been holding the administration's feet to the fire over campaign funding.
He is at times sanctimonious and self-righteous and a hip-shooter who once embarrassed his colleagues by calling Bill Clinton a "scumbag." At one point he tried to convince those who would listen that there were serious doubts about former Clinton aide Vince Foster's death. He even went so far as to try to re-create the circumstances of Foster's ending in his backyard, using a melon and a gun.Before he assumed his chairmanship of the House committee investigating the fund-raising activities of the White House during the 1996 election campaign, he allegedly was involved in some questionable fund-raising practices of his own.
His actions during the investigation often have been heavy-handed and he once was accused of doctoring transcripts of taped telephone conversations between disgraced Clinton pal Webb Hubbell and Hubbell's wife to put the worst possible spin on them.
In the "live by the sword, die by the sword" atmosphere of Washington politics, nearly everything is fair, and Burton, of all people, should know this.
There are, however, instances where even one as often thoroughly disliked as Burton can be treated unfairly. That's certainly the case in the recent disclosure that the Indianapolis congressman had fathered an illegitimate child before he was elected to the House 16 years ago.
Those who would make a comparison between Burton's action as a member of the state legislature and Clinton's action as president of the United States are completely out of line.
Burton appears to have taken complete responsibility for his behavior. He has supported the child with his wife's knowledge and treated the child's mother, who was not a public employee, with respect, and she in turn has shown no public acrimony.
While Burton has been scathing in his criticism of Clinton and the campaign-funding scandal, he has made no allusions to the president's sexual misconduct.
The revelation of Burton's earlier indiscretions reportedly stems from an investigation being conducted by a magazine. The congressman himself seems to have unwittingly brought the matter to a head by trying to warn constituents of a pending scandal, thus leaving the Indianapolis Star little choice but to follow up on a story it already knew something about and had not printed.
There is at this juncture no evidence that the White House had a hand in tipping the magazine, Vanity Fair, to Burton's story. Burton certainly has been the president's nemesis, persisting on the campaign-funding scandal when the Senate long ago seems to have given up. And the White House does have a history of going after its critics in any way possible.
The timing of the Burton story seems a bit suspicious considering the congressman's recent success in keeping the pressure on Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special counsel in the fund-raising affair. The attorney general recently reopened her inquiry into Albert Gore's role in the case to determine whether his actions merit an independent counsel.
The main culprit here may be journalistic overexuberance. In the heat of one of these investigations into personal behavior, the tendency among reporters too often is to find your own example no matter how irrelevant, particularly when it may be a major player in the overall story.
Burton's affair, as reprehensible as it was, doesn't stack up with that of Clinton, who misused the most powerful office in the land to take advantage of a low-level worker half his age.
But already there are rumblings of more to come, with some of the president's allies hinting broadly that on this issue of extramarital sex, a number of his critics may be vulnerable. Stay alert as the issue of impeachment heats up.