DEAR Mr. Vice President: A little over a year ago, you met with a group of journalists in Chicago a few hours after delivering an impassioned attack on tobacco interests at the Democratic National Convention.
You had hardly sat down with us before you had to deal with a barrage of questions. They came down to this: How could you be a credible critic of Big Tobacco and the terrible damage you feel it has done to our society while having continued to raise tobacco on your land?
You calmly gave this response: You had simply been very slow to believe that tobacco was a killer - that it had taken the tobacco-related death of a sister to waken you to the truth. And you have awakened, you told us, and with that awakening has come the certainty that tobacco is a villain that must be destroyed.
Your plea of being a slow learner when it came to accepting the destructive nature of tobacco found ready acceptance in our group. There were probably many other slow learners about tobacco's destructive effects among those 50 political writers sitting around the table at the Monitor-sponsored lunch.
Your tobacco problem - of talking one way but acting in a contradictory way - could have caused you immense difficulties. It had the smell of hypocrisy. But you dealt with your problem openly and forthrightly - talking with reporters who would pass your explanation along to readers all over the country. You candidly told us that you had made a big mistake about tobacco but that you had switched your position, and with a vengeance.
When people read what you said to us, they seemed to understand your position. Indeed, I think you put to rest that noon a problem that would inevitably have grown to career-threatening proportions, since your major political asset - a reputation for integrity - was in question.
That leads us to your principal current problem, which doubtless is a much bigger one: the charge from your critics that you broke the law when you made dozens of calls from the White House to raise money from big political contributors.
Your reputation for being "Mr. Clean" is under severe attack. Some while back you told Americans that your lawyers had advised you that there was no controlling legal authority that would say what you had done was illegal.
Since then, you have stayed detached from questions on the subject, perhaps hoping that the problem, with time, would go away. But it won't.
It seems to me, too, that a person who intends to become a presidential candidate - and particularly someone whose integrity has been his chief asset - simply can't afford to look as though he's failing to speak openly and candidly about his campaign-spending problems.
What forum should you pick for laying out your funds-solicitation case in detail - together with providing a detailed response to questions about your visit to a Buddhist temple? I think that some kind of meeting with the press would be in order. I certainly wouldn't recommend a television interview where the tough questions often are not asked and, if they are, there are few and ineffective follow-ups.
YOUR best way, as I see it, of dealing with your problems - or, at least, in making some headway in putting these problems behind you - is to face up, calmly and patiently, to thorough questioning.
Will such a session put an end to your "long night"? I can't say. Perhaps a forthright admission of making mistakes, particularly in what one leading observer has called your "fumbling" way of dealing with your solicitation-of-funds problem, might help.
It's not my place as a journalist to say that candor will pull you out of this hole - or that it should. But it could be a beginning for you. And I don't think that Mr. Clean can do other than put everything out in the open.
And, finally, let me say this: You don't go to work to try to clear up your reputation by hiring lawyers, as you have in recent days, while still remaining on the sidelines. Instead, you should face your problems head on and now, not later. So, Mr. Vice President, how about sitting down with us journalists once again?
He has stayed detached from questioning, perhaps hoping that the problem, with time, would go away. It won't.