DURING THEIR RAVINGS, a couple of senators vowed that the staffer who leaked the secret dirty-talk memo about Judge Clarence Thomas to the press would be tracked down and brought to justice.
I don't blame the senators for being angry about the leak. Without it, Judge Thomas would have been confirmed Tuesday evening, and they would have resumed the important chore of squandering our money.
But to hear them bluster, you would think that some traitor had been passing nuclear warheads to Saddam Hussein.
As leaks go, this was a fine one. It served the purpose of taking information that had been limited to the eyes of only a few self-adoring windbags and bringing it to the attention of 250 million Americans.
So what's wrong with that? If a reputable law professor says that a prospective Supreme Court justice acted like a creep, shouldn't that information be shared with the 99.999 percent of Americans who aren't members of the Senate Judiciary Committee?
Apparently the senators think it shouldn't be shared, which is why they kept it secret. And that's why they are so outraged that a staffer apparently thought it was something the rest of us should know about and passed it along to a newspaper.
The leaker was right. The allegations by professor Anita Hill are something that we should know about. We're not talking about someone being appointed deputy chief street sweeper. Thomas is one roll-call vote away from being given a lifetime job that will have him making legal decisions when today's preschoolers are raising their own kids.
So is it unreasonable to ask, in light of professor Hill's charges, if Judge Thomas might have weirdo tendencies?
I don't know if he has or not. Nor do the senators, despite their claims to apparent psychic powers that allow them to read the minds of Judge Thomas, and find him good and true, and professor Hill, and find her dishonest or ditzy.
But I'd like to know, one way or another. And so would millions of Americans, especially indignant women who scared the holy hell out of the senators by bombarding their offices with phone calls and faxes.
Ah, what a wonderful sight that was, all those clubby senators scurrying about and sticking their damp fingers in the air to see which way the political winds had shifted.
It didn't take long -- just one long morning -- before the bulbs went off in their heads and they yipped: "About 55 percent of the registered voters are women. How do I get out of this mess?"
And suddenly they were bellowing about how the air had to be cleared, the accused had to face his accuser, the American people have a right to know the answers to the questions.
Of course we do. We had a right to know about it when the senators were sitting on professor Hill's charges, either too dumb or too timid to make them public.
And now that further hearings will be held, maybe we will get the answers. Or maybe we won't. At least we'll know as much as Sen. Huffer and Sen. Puffer.
But now they want to know who the leaker is so he or she can be punished. Punishment isn't really the right word. What they're talking about is revenge. Track down that trouble-making SOB.
Ah, what a grand bunch of phonies they are. There isn't one senator in that blow-dried elite club who hasn't used a leak for self-serving purposes at some point in his career.
Back in their home states, when they were rising young political hotshots, some leaked dirt about their political opponents. Now that they're in Washington, they leak dirt about each other, about White House aides, about government agencies and on a slow day, about themselves. There are more leaks in Congress than in the plumbing of all the tenements in New York City.
But suddenly they are appalled. Goodness gracious, someone leaked the stuff about Judge Thomas? Call the FBI, get out the hounds.
If they're smart, they'll forget about it. Sure, the leaker can be traced and exposed. But suppose the leaker says something like: "Allegations had been made by a reputable person that a nominee for the Supreme Court of the United States had engaged in sexual harassment. This was being hushed up by members of the United States Senate. As a matter of conscience, I thought this was information that should be open to the citizens of this country. Can I have one last smoke before you take me before the firing squad?"
No, I don't think President Bush wants his Justice Department coming down with both feet on the person who brought something into the open that belonged in the open. And I don't think Sen. Huffer and Sen. Puffer want the female voters in their states asking them: "Please explain why you want to send someone to jail for telling me what is going on."
They can't be that dumb. But maybe they are. Watching them in action this week, there's reason to wonder whether they can knot their own ties.