President Clinton's defenders would have us focus on the act in the hallway. As repugnant as that may be, for so many reasons, it is pure misdirection. The issue is not sex.

Ordinary citizens go to prison for perjury. Ordinary citizens go to prison for witness tampering and obstruction of justice. A former governor of Guam went to prison for lying to a potential witness, knowing that the lie would be repeated in an official government inquiry. That's a felony under federal law.The evidence indicates that Clinton did all of those things, for which ordinary citizens suffer imprisonment when caught. But Clinton did far more than lie under oath. He took an oath of office. He swore on his honor to uphold the law and then violated that oath. Impeachment is an entirely appropriate remedy.

If the House fails to draft articles of impeachment, should we repeal perjury statutes, witness-tampering statutes and obstruction of justice statutes? Should Congress also repeal the federal statute about lying to a witness to influence testimony? Should defendants in sexual harassment cases have license to lie? If the president, whose sworn duty is to uphold the law, is not accountable, then why should you or I or anyone else be held accountable?

Impeachment is a divisive and painful process. It will last for months and its effects for years and possibly generations. However, an impeachment proceeding may not result in removal from office, and based on that hope, Clinton seems determined to drag his supporters, his family, his office and the country through the pain of the process. If he had the moral courage to do the right thing, he would spare us the pain. He would resign. Perhaps, like Richard Nixon, he would eventually have a chance to earn a measure of our respect again.

Unfortunately, resignation is not likely. Although this is not about sex, it is about moral courage, and Clinton doesn't have it.

Richard G. Smurthwaite