I don't know about anybody else, but I'm getting tired of these women crawling out from under rocks, claiming they've had affairs with politicians, and then going on to cash in on their newly minted notoriety, leaving the politician and his family underneath a pile of rubble.

Sure, you can say "he" shouldn't have had the affair. I know those arguments. There's another one I heard this week from a woman politician who is an admirer of Gov. Bill Clinton. She said she felt sorry for Gennifer Flowers, the latest kiss-and-teller. "Women," she argued, "are the ultimate victims, that they have to resort to this kind of nonsense to have any status anywhere."

Clinton's accuser has had enough holes punched in her biography to sink a candidate for dogcatcher. I don't care whether she was lying about being on "Hee-Haw" or not. My personal red light went off when I read the transcript of the audio tape and found the Arkansas governor identifying himself on the telephone as "Bill Clinton." Are we to believe that people who have had an affair for 12 years don't recognize each other's voices?

Flower's credibility was not enhanced by the fact that no matter how you cut it, she comes across as a homewrecker. She shows up on television trying to prove a liaison with a man who, along with his wife, is making a commitment to an ongoing marriage. Had the Clintons gotten divorced, no one would have given Flowers a nickel for her audio tapes.

Yet somehow this woman's emergence crippled, if not devastated, a major presidential campaign.

The burden of proof shifted to Clinton. His situation contrasts interestingly with the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court justice, where the burden remained with his accuser, Anita Hill, to prove that Thomas had sexually harassed her.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, sees significant differences between the two situations. Thomas had already gone through the confirmation hearings, established his credibility and come across as an honorable person. "He actually had, in effect, inoculated himself against the charges during the actual confirmation hearings. Secondly, there was no prior history of rumors about Thomas in the public domain," Jamieson said.

"Clinton is a virtual unknown to most people and this charge has been rumbling around in quasi-public settings for some time. One further element is we have Gary Hart in the back of our minds." With Thomas, she said, there was no precedent.

Jamieson gives Republican strategists high marks for choreographing a case against Hill, portraying her, for example, as a woman scorned. They "really understood the psychology of the public process of television. They provided four or five narratives to discredit Anita Hill. Here are the Democrats out there arguing spheres of privacy," instead of portraying Flowers as "a money-grubbing, power-hungry bimbo who is trying to get her place in the sun."

Jamieson believes that what is really behind our fascination with the allegations against Clinton is a national search for ways of defining the character of presidential candidates. "We are trying to get at the forms of duplicity and the moral lapses that were the Vietnam War and Watergate and the forms of incompetence that were {Presidents} Ford and Carter, but we don't know how to do it. If someone lies, I don't trust the person. The lying is what disqualifies him. We are trying to figure out how to evaluate the character of the person who would be president. "We let Bush get away with lying about no new taxes, but lying about something in your personal life is saying something more relevant to governance."

Bush understands this very well. He saw first-hand in the 1988 presidential campaign debates how a dispassionate response by Democrat Michael Dukakis to a question about whether he would favor the death penalty for someone who had raped and murdered his wife devastated Dukakis's candidacy. Bush knows how to play his "Barbara" card very astutely.

On Sunday night, Clinton introduced himself to most of the nation by going on television and denying rumors that he had an affair with Flowers.

On Tuesday night, Bush addressed the nation and opened by telling everyone that he wanted the speech to be "a big hit, but I couldn't convince Barbara to deliver it for me." The cameras then zoomed to the smiling First Lady.

The contrast between the two candidates was, quite simply, devastating.