THE FOOTNOTES in the Deaver case are threatening to overwhelm the text. The latter is simple and well known. Michael Deaver was an old and valued friend as well as aide to President and Mrs. Reagan who spent the first Reagan term as deputy White House chief of staff, then left to set up a lobbying and public relations firm. He sought in that to capitalize on his closeness to both Reagans as well as his former service high in the administration.

His access and purported influence enabled him to charge his clients, which included importuning foreign governments, enormous fees. The brazenness, not to say compulsiveness, with which he went about this brought investigations down upon his head, first by a House subcommittee, finally by an independent counsel, Whitney North Seymour Jr. Mr. Seymour ultimately had Mr. Deaver indicted not for having lobbied but for having lied about it, both to the subcommittee and to a grand jury. Mr. Deaver was tried on five counts of perjury and this week convicted of three. He should neither have lied nor put himself in a position where he felt he had to. He got what he deserved. The creaky old system worked, above all in the sense of demonstrating that not even the most powerful can flout the law.

Now for the footnotes. They are more complicated; they have to do with sanctimony. What Michael Deaver did -- not the lying, but the influence-peddling -- is done every day in this town. At a certain level you could argue that our system of government both presumes and even depends a little on this constant plucking at its sleeve. Some of the people professing to be most aghast at Mr. Deaver's behavior either do the same things themselves (and would do more if they could) or well know others who do, whom they greatly admire.

Mr. Deaver's sins, if sins they were, were less in kind than in degree. He went too far, but the lines in this swamp are blurry. Even as you look, they move. The preachily titled Ethics in Government Act, whose strictures on lobbying are what got him into trouble -- though he was never officially accused of having violated them -- is feel-good legislation. It tries to bottle air. The lines it draws as to where a former high official can lobby and how long he must wait are as arbitrary as they are golden in intent. Like so many other such rules, in the cutesy evasions to which they lead they spawn as much corruption as they cure.

The Ethics in Government Act also provides the authority for the appointment of independent counsels. These are meant to avoid the impossible damned-if-they-do and damned-if-they-don't situations where an administration would otherwise be required, at the highest levels, to investigate and prosecute itself. The device is a good one, which Congress and a reluctant president have now sensibly extended. Critics complain that the counsels are not properly accountable so that the power in their offices can be abused. In fact the opposite has happened. Those appointed over the years have been respected members of the bar who have acted with restraint. Far from running wild, they have uniformly said -- until this case -- that they could find no grounds for prosecution.

Mr. Seymour has now broken with that good tradition twice. The first was in the creditable work he did in confounding a not inconsiderable number of skeptics and critics and winning Mr. Deaver's conviction. The second was in the lamentable and unprofessional way in which he then sermonized about it all afterward. He attacked George Shultz for having had the temerity to say some good things about Mr. Deaver from the witness stand. He favored us with the observation, well within his competence of course, that there is "too much 'loose money' " in this town, and "Washington money men will continue to undermine public confidence in government until lawmakers, business and community leaders and individual citizens decide to cry 'Enough.' "

That's what we cry right now: "Enough." Some people do indeed try to get ahead by corrupting the government . . . and others by moralizing about it. It's not always clear which does the most harm. The prosecution's over, Mr. Seymour. You did a good job. Take the day off