IF PRESIDENT CLINTON is allowed to serve out the remainder of his term, it will have profoundly negative cultural consequences. Even apart from his squalid sexual affair with Miss Lewinsky and his elaborate, calculated seven-month campaign of lies to cover it up, we know the president repeatedly lied under oath, first during his January deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit and then to a grand jury in August. So we have a president who has committed a felony crime (perjury). In addition, a reasonable reading of the record shows that Mr. Clinton obstructed justice, suborned perjury and tampered with witnesses.

But there is more. President Clinton is seeking to make the American public complicit in his corruption. And this is precisely what he will do if we accept, and in accepting, approve, his actions. Consider a few of the cultural messages that will be sent if we do not repudiate him.1. It's acceptable for presidents to subvert the rule of law.

We cannot allow the chief legal officer of the nation to commit, and have it be known that he committed, felony crimes and go unpunished. It treats with utter contempt the idea of equal justice and the grand American ideal that no man, not even a president, is above the law. What other felony crimes will we accept in future presidents?

2. Forgiveness is a pretext to excuse moral wrong.

Clinton defenders argue that the president is contrite and has asked for, and is deserving of, forgiveness (read: He ought to escape punishment). Assume for the sake of argument that his almost endless number of public confessions are genuine (which I do not). It remains irrelevant, at least in this regard: Acts must have consequences. We are on the road to decivilization if we accept the Clintonian logic that we should all be "forgiving" - when forgiveness means not holding people accountable for misconduct.

3. Private character doesn't matter.

The president's defenders argue that the president's only important job is to oversee a strong economy and advance good legislation. But this is an arid, constricted view of the presidency. Thefounders wisely advocated that the office of the presidency be filled by persons whose "reputation for integrity inspires and merits confidence."

The American president, whoever he is, is almost always voted the most admired man in America because of the prestige of the office itself. What he does, who he is, the messages about right and wrong he sends, matter. They matter especially to the young.

John Dean said of Watergate: "If Watergate had succeeded, what would have been put into the system for years to come? People thinking the way Richard Nixon thought, and thinking that is the way it should be. It would have been a travesty; it would have been frightening."

It would be a travesty, and frightening, to legitimize Mr. Clinton's ethics.

This corrupt and corrupting president must be repudiated.