Gary Hart has tossed his halo into the ring again, creating new problems for the other six candidates still running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
A byproduct of his Messianic decision was the resurrection of a demand on someone who isn't running for anything -- or from anything, for that matter, because he faced right up to the problem. He just said no.
Enter Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Post, the man who is often accused of springing the trapdoor under Gary Hart. Last May, he came into possession of information that indicated a previously undisclosed liaison with ''a Washington woman.'' Mr. Bradlee instructed a reporter to get Mr. Hart's comment on the reported relationship with this woman, whose identity has since become the subject of almost as much speculation as Deep Throat.
Front-running candidate Hart, already wallowing in the wake of the Donna Rice ''Monkey Business,'' immediately announced his withdrawal as a presidential candidate.
Mr. Bradlee resisted the ensuing clamor for disclosure of the woman's name, which The Post acknowledged it had, together with pictures.
He said there had been no decision, even before Mr. Hart bowed out, on whether to print the story. The Post did report on the relationship after the Hart exit, but never identified the woman. Mr. Bradlee was also quoted as saying that the woman involved had ''indirectly'' confirmed the relationship on condition she not be identified and that he felt bound by that. This tends to cloud the issue a bit, but it is a minor point. The matter rested there, after some heated debate among news gatherers, because with Mr. Hart out of the picture, so was the woman.
This past week Mr. Hart apparently became disturbed at the lacklust (this nonword is used advisedly) campaigns of his erstwhile colleagues, and the fat was in the fire.
The issue of the identity of ''the Washington woman'' abruptly moved up to the front burner along with Mr. Hart. I, for one, was astonished and dismayed at the number of people -- readers, correspondents, editors, even members of The Post staff -- who felt this newspaper was now obligated to publish the woman's name.
Within hours after Mr. Hart went front and center, Executive Editor Bradlee made his decision: ''The circumstances under which we confirmed the relationship have not changed,'' he said, meaning that The Post will continue to withhold publication of the woman's name.
I was disappointed in Mr. Bradlee. It would have been more in character for him to have told these voyeurs to go to hell. There is no earthly reason for naming this woman. It has become rather chic inside the Beltway the past several months for insiders to comment on The Post's failure to share its carnal knowledge with readers, and at the same time to hint they knew all about it before The Post did.
A newspaper has an obligation to provide its readers with information they need to make decisions. The editor decides what this information is -- that's what he gets paid for. In a political campaign, voters want to know whether a candidate is a person of character, someone they can trust. There are some political pundits who even maintain that the issues are secondary, and I would agree with them.
For better or worse, thanks to the diligence of the working press, the public today is fully informed; no one now questions that Mr. Hart is an adulterer, a deceiver and a womanizer. If the American people elect to put an adulterer and womanizer in the White House, they have every right to do so -- it probably would not be the first time they did it, but it would be the first time they did it know-ingly.
The press has done its job, perhaps overdone it.
As for ''the Washington woman,'' whoever she is, there may be some comfort in knowing that by sheer accident she may join the ranks of women who have changed the course of history. And The Post, whether she likes it or not, will keep her secret forever.