What makes America a great country is that it forgives people for their indiscretions on television. Last week Gary Hart was given permission to go on the Ted Koppel show to put his political scandal behind him. At the same time Donna Rice, his ex-friend, was given a TV press conference to promote a product called No Excuses jeans.

"What does this mean to the Democratic Party?" I asked Sampson Overbite, the leading pundit for "Donkey Business."

"I don't think it will affect the party one way or the other," he replied.

"You're talking about Mr. Hart's apology?"

"No, I'm talking about Donna Rice's jeans. They may look attractive but they won't do anything for you in the voting booth."

"Would it have been better if Hart had put on the jeans and Donna had publicly apologized on 'Nightline'?"

"I don't think so. Women voters get very upset when a model who sails off with one of their more attractive presidential candidates makes money out of it. I'm not saying that you shouldn't cash in on a political scandal, but if you take it too far something like this could hurt the jeans business."

I asked, "Was Hart consulted by the manufacturers about No Excuses jeans?"

"I'm certain he wasn't or he would have apologized for them, too. This is one they can't blame on Gary. The worst part of a model getting mixed up with hanky-panky in the Bahamas is there is always a ladies' clothing manufacturer waiting on the docks in Miami to sign her up."

"It's lucky that Gary didn't announce he was getting back in the race. He would not only have had to defend his behavior in Washington, but the quality of Donna's jeans as well."

"That's true, particularly when the pants go under the name of No Excuses."

"Politics sure makes strange publicity stunts," I said.

Sampson growled, "I think there is too much being made of Donna's jeans contract. I know of no case where a female friend of a presidential candidate who dressed in pants affected what happened in Iowa."

"Is it possible that the jeans manufacturers selected Donna for her notoriety?"

"There is always that possibility. But the next question is why would Donna's friendship with Gary sell jeans?"

"Perhaps because many women feel if they are wearing Donna's jeans they will be closer to Gary."

"We must keep this on a serious level," Sampson replied. "What I'm trying to figure out is whether Hart means it when he says he's out of the race. Suppose Donna's britches sold awfully well. That would be the nearest thing to a grass roots draft."

"They would look great on a poster together," I said.

"At the same time we can't avoid the possibility that Gary might try to distance himself from Donna. Suppose he told all his supporters not to buy No Excuses jeans. It could be the straw that broke the camel's back."

"Gary's trying to get his own scandal behind him. He can't do that if he makes Donna's jeans an issue. What he should do when asked about the modeling contract is say he is very happy for Donna, although he doesn't ever plan to see her again."

"I don't think that's convincing enough. I believe Gary is finally going to have to tell the truth and say that his sole interest in Donna Rice was to put her in the garment business."