"Why," a Republican friend admonished me the other day, "don't people take the Billy Carter affair as seriously as they did Watergate?"

It was a fair question and I had to give it some thought.

Then it occureed to me that the reason people can't get as upset about Billy Carter as they did about Watergate is that most of us seem to have a Billy Carter in our family. He could be a brother or a brother-in-law, a cousin, or even an uncle who has lost his moral compass.

We empathize with President Carter because we know in our hearts there is nothing we can do about the Billy Carter in our family except keep a stiff upper lip and say we love him, which of course is a lie that we hope God will forgive us for.

When you become president of the United States, having a Billy Carter in the family can become downright dangerous. You have to keep an eye on him all the time, and yhou can get all messed up with the FBI, the CIA and your own national security adviser just trying to keep him from doing something stupid that would embarrass the White House.

There has to be a better solution for handling a black sheep in the family when you take over the highest office in the land.

There are too many sharks out there waiting to pounce on someone in the First Family who could be used to cash in on the White House connection.

One solution would be to make better use of Camp David. What the government could do is build a special compound at Camp David where the relatives of the president of the United States could take up residence for four years. The compound would be very pleasant, with cottages, a mess hall, tennis courts and a bowling alley.

It would be surrounded by a 10-foot-high electric wire fence with watchtowers at all four corners manned by armed marines.

The relatives would be given complete run of the compound, but they wouldn't be allowed to leave the premises while the president was in office. They would be permitted two telephone calls a week, provided they weren't made to foreign embassy or an oil company.

Visitors would be allowed on Sunday, but they would have to be screened by the Justice Department to make sure they weren't related to Robert Vesco.

So the relatives won't get bored and go on hunger strikes, there would be vocational guidance instructors available to teach them a trade for use when they are released. As an added inducement, a literary agent in residence would arrange book deals for them with publishers so they could make extra money, which they could spend in the commissary.

Some people say it is unfair to put the relatives of the president of the United States under house arrest while he is in office. But the alternatives are much worse. You can't allow the Billy Carters of this world to walk around scot-free, with everyone dangling half-million-dollar loans in front of them, without endangering the security of the country.

It isn't as if they would have to remain in Camp David forever. They could all be released as soon as the president pays his debt to society.