IN THE LANGUAGE of the psychotherapist, the word "but" does not exist. It gets replaced by the word "and" so that, for instance, a person could be described as a good father, a swell provider, a Boy Scout leader and a molester of little girls. To say "but" implies a moral judgment and that, in therapy, is to be avoided. Therapy cleanses the pysche, not the soul.

Somewhat the same thing happens in politics. At the moment, for instance, Ronald Ziegler, currently employed as the Washington representative of America's truck-stop operators, tells us in an interview that the nation is once again beginning to recognize the "significant achievements" of Richard Nixon. Ziegler, who always recognized those achievements, says that Watergate, that smudge on Nixon's otherwise brilliant political canvas, is beginning to be put into -- you guessed it -- "perspective."

Thus, for Nixon there was the opening of the door to China, a firm foreign policy, disengagement from Vietnam and Watergate -- not but Watergate. To Ziegler and some others, it is as if it were all the same, all equal, as if a good foreign policy can compensate for, or is the same as, an attempt to corrupt the constitution, the presidency, the political process and the faith the American people have in those institutions.

Ziegler is a master at timing. He can sense, as anyone can who has followed the travails of Alexander Haig Jr., that the nation really is in a forgiving or forgetting mood. With Haig, the word and is also used instead of the word but . Haig was a brilliant Army officer, a brilliant staff officer, a brilliant White House aide and he participated in highly questionable wire tappings and he helped Nixon stonewall it during Watergate and aside from the inconvenience of a treaty or two, he is untroubled by the U.S.-supported overthrow of the Allende government in Chile -- an act that, if the Russians had done it, would have caused us to cancel all sports activities with them anywhere in the world.

With Haig, as with Ziegler's version of Nixon, it is as if all things are morally neutral. If they are not clearly illegal, then they are clearly legal and clearly moral -- the two being the same in a world ruled by lawyers. Nixon, of course, crossed that line -- Remember the pardon? -- and so it is proper and fair to distinguish between him and Haig. In fact, what Nixon has become is some sort of contemporary symbol of evil, always on the horizon, a modern-day devil, not one-dimensional, but complex, part good, part bad -- a hollow man with a dog and a loyal former press secretary.

With Haig, everything is very much more complex. He functioned in the Washington of Watergate and Vietnam where the old line between right and wrong got so blurred that it was hard to tell when it had been crossed. This confusion, this moral fog, is the sort of climate in which any person -- you, me, Alex Haig -- could lose their way. Knowing the difference between right and wrong is hard enough just to teach children; in life it can be impossible to determine.

At any rate, neither Nixon nor Haig was blessed with that talent and if you are going to forgive either of them it has to be on the basis that they were framed (Nixon) or that they were essentially good men, trying always to do the right thing who sometimes (who wouldn't?) went wrong (Haig).

But there is no concession that this was the case with Haig -- no general acknowledgement that he might actually have gone a bit wrong. There was not the slightest resemblance between the Senate hearing room and the confessional -- nothing apologetic, for instance, coming from Haig. That's fine and totally expected as far as Haig himself is concerned. And it's also fine if everyone else shared Haig's conviction that despite being an alumnus of Vietnam planning, Watergate, the wire taps and much more, there is not the slightest reason to suspect him of being anything other than morally and ethically pure.

But that is not the case. Instead, the sense you get is that "it" -- Watergate, Vietnam, Chile, the wiretaps, you-name-it -- doesn't really matter anymore. The suspicions, the doubts have been buried. What matters now is the goal -- the current foreign policy situation, the need of the president-elect, who took his time about it, to have a secretary of state. To hell with who's driving, this train must run on time -- no ifs, ands or buts about it.