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A Scandal, A Shooting - Side-by-Side

In an almost surreal way, events have conspired to present the noblest and ignoblest faces of America's capital side-by-side.

Last Friday at about 2 in the afternoon, White House spokesman Mike McCurry gave the first hint the question of President Clinton's testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case was nearing a climax. In a thousand newsrooms, that looked like the lead story of the day.

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Then at 3:40 p.m., a deranged man shot his way into the Capitol and the lead story suddenly changed. Since then, reporting on a president under siege and a Congress in shock have been running on parallel tracks. On Capitol Hill, partisan voices have been muted as tough politicians yielded to grief, even tears, over what has befallen two families, a Congress, and a nation that, for once, feels like a family.

Later on, partisan points will surely be made about security, gun control, and our failing system of mental health. But not this week. Tuesday, joining the president and congressional leaders, was a day to emphasize not what divides them, but what unites them - and us. The much-maligned, perhaps justly maligned, media played their role on Tuesday, doing what they do best - creating from the memorial a public ceremony that let Americans figuratively hold hands in unity and community.

Too often, our public ceremonies have been about the death of a national leader, sometimes by violence. Tuesday it was about two unelected men, two ordinary men who did an extraordinary thing. And in so doing they reminded us of how far rage against our government can lead.

It was a ceremony to make us proud and perhaps a little ashamed of how easy it is to forget what our government and its institutions are about. The contrapuntal effect of having Clinton-Lewinsky and Chestnut-Gibson running side by side seemed calculated to give us pause. Perhaps scandal isn't all that the government is about.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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