Whether or not President Clinton resigns or is impeached, whether he loses the presidency or continues to hold the office after losing his own dignity, he already may have lost something that he can never regain. His daughter's respect.

Nobody can pretend to know what Chelsea Clinton has gone through in the past week. Nobody should ask. Her relationship with her father is private - one of the few privacies he can still claim and one that belongs unquestionably to Chelsea. Even to try to imagine what emotions she must be feeling seems an invasion.But it's true no young woman has ever been forced to endure such public revelations about her father's personal behavior. Literally millions of Internet users have read details of her father's affair with a woman who, in other circumstances, could have been one of Chelsea's peers. She deserves better, and she deserves to know that her father values her respect more than he loves the presidency.

To resign the presidency goes against Clinton's instincts. He will not willingly relinquish the nation's top office - especially under these circumstances. To do so would be admitting that he can no longer be an effective leader, and Clinton doesn't believe he could lose the ability to lead, no matter what he has done.

His personal mistakes, compounded by attempts to cover them up with lies, and the knowledge his constituents now have of those mistakes and lies still don't mean - in his estimation - that he can't govern.

The colossal ego that permitted him to do what he did and then underestimate the system's ability to trip him up is continuing to dictate his actions. He simply sees this as another obstacle for the Comeback Kid. But does he care nothing about respect? Is staying in office worth the cost when it comes to the respect of the people he should care most about?

Clinton's attempts to avoid telling the truth and his attempts to use legal technicalities to avoid impeachment have backfired. Americans are not as stupid as he obviously believes. Lies are lies, no matter what legal term is applied to them. And many Americans don't support his remaining in office at the cost of the dignity of the presidency.

Clinton's had several chances to keep our respect, and he's thrown them in the face of Americans. If he cares nothing about our respect, does he feel the same about his daughter's?

Clinton has one last chance to salvage some respect. He's admitted to making a terrible mistake with a young intern who worked for him and who was nearly 30 years his junior. Now he should also admit he was wrong to have lied about the affair.

Most Americans have something in their past they hope no one ever knows about, and maybe that's why they were willing to forgive and label Clinton's behavior a personal mistake. But, caught in a lie, respectable people admit it and take their punishment. Clinton shouldn't compound the lie by saying he didn't mean to avoid telling the truth or didn't know he was lying.

Own up to it, Clinton, as tough as it may be. It could mean giving up your job, but it might also be the only way to keep some kernel of respect - from your daughter and the rest of the country.