Tef-lon (tef'la n) (poly)te(tra)fl(uorethylene) + -on 1. arbitrary suffix for synthetic products, a trademark for an inert, tough, insoluble polymer, used in making nonsticking coatings, as for cookware, and in gaskets, bearings, electrical insulators, etc. 2. appellation often applied to U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan (1981-1989), as in "the Teflon president," referring to his ability to avoid having political failures stick to him and first attributed to Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.); hence, any protective covering that shields a public figure from blame.

In the case of who got Supreme Court nominee Douglas H. Ginsburg, many suspects are feverishly wrapping themselves in Teflon while piously proclaiming their innocence:

Not I, cried the president.

Not I, cried the attorney general.

Not I, cried the education secretary.

Not I, cried the FBI.

Not I, cried the right.

Not I, cried the left.

Not I, cried the media.

If the situation were not so serious, it would be laughable, grand farce.

In the Ginsburg affair, the country has been given a vivid demonstration of the utter destructiveness of the true-believer mentality so dominant in the Reagan era and of the pervasive climate of hypocrisy that encompasses much of public deliberations these days.

This is only the latest example of problems created by true-believer thinking. The same kind of rigid, only-we-know-best mentality produced the supply-side economics deficit debacle and the Iran-contra disasters. Now, it has produced the national embarrassment of Reagan's self-created high-court confirmation crisis.

So, the answer to who got Ginsburg is simple: ideology and zealotry.

In the round of recriminations that followed the Ginsburg nomination failure, some of the diehards tried to pretend that wicked old Washington was collectively at fault -- if not the "liberals," then the even worse "pragmatists."

Especially singled out for blame was that centrist, that conciliator, that skilled and reasonable selfless public servant, that real Republican conservative, Howard H. Baker Jr. It seems that the White House chief of staff's crime is seeking to serve his country by attempting to best serve his president, not the special ideological pleaders.

The Wall Street Journal's editorialists, the same crew that has blown the bugle for supply-side economics and other ideological imperatives during the last seven years, commented dolefully on what it called "the Ginsburg marijuana mudball," observing: "The likelihood is that no one could be confirmed by the present Senate in the present political climate."

Then they sounded a lament for poor Reagan: "When a president has served seven years and won two landslides" -- an interesting claim in view of Reagan's slender 51 percent popular-vote total in 1980, about the same as Jimmy Carter's in 1976 -- "what are his responsibilities in the face of such opposition?"

The answer to that is simple, too.

Don't politicize the court process. Pick the best-qualified candidate, emphasizing merit and distinction. Choose a person who possesses a truly independent and judicious cast of mind. Whether labeled liberal, centrist or conservative, that nominee will sail through the confirmation proceedings and be confirmed easily by the Senate in the current political climate.

The Journal has a point, if excessively stated, when it reflected on the general state of hypocrisy and moral posturing that surfaced in the confirmation struggle. "Washington, D.C., is a city lying in the gutter, wallowing in hypocrisy," the newspaper commented. "It has become a bizarre sinkhole of character assassination and smirking self-righteousness. It will eagerly cast not only the first stone but {also} any other rocks it can lay its hands on."

Certainly, there is blame enough in this case -- in the spectacle of politicians stumbling over each other to confess that they had shared in the common experience of their generation by trying a little pot, in the tut-tutting of press commentary, in the furious writhing of moral majoritarian types when one of their own, or so they thought, is shown to have clay feet or merely be human.

It's time to put an end to ideology and get on with the serious and bipartisan national business.

The president indicated that he now shares that view. When he announced his third recent Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, Reagan said, "The experience of the last several months has made us all a little bit wiser."

Most Americans surely hope so. And they hope that this sorry chapter is closed, with its lessons about the excesses of ideology learned.