SAN DIEGO — After strongly criticizing Joe Klein in this column for lying about being the author of "Primary Colors," I was confronted with an ethical problem of my own. Ed Rollins, also a confessed liar, was making a revisit to the Monitor breakfast forum where he had told us that the Christine Todd Whitman campaign in New Jersey, in which he was a top consultant, had paid $500,000 to black ministers to suppress the black vote. When this divulgence immediately stirred up a firestorm, Mr. Rollins said he had made it all up.
Should I open the door? Almost two years had passed since Rollins delivered this blow to his credibility and his career. He was flogged badly by just about everyone. For a while his income dried up. Most of his friends turned their backs on him. For months he faced a future that showed only bleakness.
Very slowly he forged a comeback until he was finally allowed to strut his stuff once again as a consultant in the Ross Perot (a short-lived role), Michael Huffington, and George Nethercutt campaigns. When Mr. Nethercutt knocked off former Speaker Tom Foley, Rollins, as the political architect of that victory, was once again an accepted member of the political-consultant fraternity. But his respectability? That is still in question.
I had no trouble in deciding to bring Rollins back to meet with our press group. He wasn't coming in to try to say he was other than what he had confessed to be: A liar. Of what he had done, he had said, "Lying is the unforgivable sin," and that he expected to bear that brand forever.
But how long do you beat on someone who has done wrong, but very quickly admits it and apologizes? Where is forgiveness? Also, I felt that each journalist at our breakfast table could decide for himself or herself whether to find credibility in Rollins' views on the political scene.
A large body of journalists showed up to listen to Rollins at that breakfast and at another Monitor breakfast get-together of journalists at the San Diego convention. The old eagerness among media people to hear Rollins's shrewd political observations is back again - just as Rollins is for certain back again.
While Bob Dole's situation was eons removed from that of Rollins, he, too, was suffering from a credibility problem of a different kind: Too many voters - too many Republicans - were not finding his candidacy to be a credible one. Even before the official campaign was under way, the electorate seemed to be turning its back on the Kansan.
Yet, within a few short days Mr. Dole's candidacy was reinvigorated. First, he picked Jack Kemp - arguably the party's most popular leader - as his running mate. Then Colin Powell delivered a powerful, healing speech. This was followed by Elizabeth Dole's boffo performance and the effective acceptance speech by the presidential candidate himself. And before the convention was over, Dole was in command of a Republican Party that had pulled out of its despair and thought it had a chance of winning.
While Rollins devoted a good part of his comments at his preconvention breakfast with reporters in Washington to explaining and apologizing for past misdeeds, he was back in his old role as a purveyor of political wisdom when he sat with this same Monitor group in San Diego.
He expresses hope for Dole - but not too much. He believes the Dole-Kemp team has been so rejuvenated by the convention that it can become a strong contender. But, at the same time, he sees some big obstacles looming: An adversary he rates as "one of the three best campaigners of all time - the others being Reagan and Kennedy," - and a gender gap that may be slow to yield to the women's perception of Dole as being "hard-edged" and insensitive to their needs.
To these words the reporters listened intently. Rollins once again is being taken seriously and, after the convention, so is Bob Dole. Now on to Chicago and the Democrats.