What part of illegal don't we get?

In this space last week, I amused myself, at least, by ridiculing moralizing conservatives, also known as hypocrites. It was because they often pay money for their extramarital sexual relations.

Most prominent liberals similarly accused, I observed, seemed to have negotiated their entanglements free of financial consideration.

Several theories were offered, extending even to fiscal policy. Conservatives are spend-happy and deficit-prone, as we know.

These theories also included that conservatives tend to so devalue human existence other than their privileged own that George W. Bush once felt it necessary to explain that he wasn't a garden-variety conservative. He proclaimed himself a compassionate one.

That would turn out not to be his only oxymoron. His "war on terror," for example, is another.

Bush abandoned the actual war on terrorists in the Pakistani mountains -- because he was trying to oblige the president there -- and instead got a wild hair to oust Saddam Hussein simply for the heck of it. Saddam's Iraq contained none of the terrorists who'd attacked us, until, that is, Bush got rope-a-doped. He effectively invited the evildoers to come into Iraq and compound the already existing insurgent and sectarian mess of his own making.

Alas, there's not much new to say on that tragic score. The Senate stayed up all night last week posturing on the war, then, per usual, couldn't get 60 votes to do anything.

But there's news to report on that original matter of conservatives paying for sex outside marriage.

Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post is becoming one of my favorite columnists. She's kind of a Maureen Dowd with more reporting and less self-indulgence, not that I'm not still pretty keen on Dowd, too.

Marcus took offense last week that two of her male columnizing colleagues in the Post -- E.J. Dionne and David Ignatius -- tried to downplay the prostitution solicitation of that moralizing right-wing senator from Louisiana, David Vitter.

Dionne had written that he hoped Vitter could safely return to work because it was time we stopped prying into private lives and imposing the findings of our snoopiness on public prints and public policy.

Marcus used her column to explain that, while what Dionne advocated might be appropriate in the behavior of a politician straying in his marriage without availing himself of a prostitute, we could reasonably infer from Vitter's acknowledgment that the preachy senator -- who once called Bill Clinton morally unfit -- may have broken the law.

Which brings me to another delicious irony: Vitter led that recent Senate debate against a guest worker program for illegal immigrants gainfully employed in the United States and otherwise behaving. On immigration, he and his ilk are always asking what part of illegal we don't understand.

Marcus wondered if Dionne would like also to excuse the D.C. Madam, the one whose human stable lured Vitter phone calls.. She wondered why the madam faced a grand jury while Vitter faced only embarrassment and all the other johns were unindicted co-conspirators.

Marcus explained that a man who has a simple affair has wronged one woman, but that a man who pays a prostitute for sex has degraded womanhood.

It was Maureen Dowd who once wrote famously that Bill Clinton's adventures with Monica Lewinsky weren't grounds for impeachment, but divorce. But that was Hillary's business. That she stayed married to the rascal to deny hypocritical, moralizing right-wingers satisfaction was a better reason to save a marriage than some.

Anyway, I wish to thank Ruth Marcus for showing that my observations of last week weren't without sober application.

Vitter ought to be brought up on charges. The compassionately conservative president could always commute his sentence.

John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.