EVERY administration needs a whistle-blower, someone who can stand up to a president and say, ``Hey, you can't do that.''
President Nixon had a group of sycophants around him who seemed to be almost cheering him on as he slid into big trouble. Mr. Nixon may well have had a no-holds-barred approach to dealing with political adversaries. But if he'd had Bryce Harlow, Herb Klein, or Ray Bliss at his elbow, his administration's dirty tricks might have stopped before they started.
Any of those three could well have been to Nixon what Lloyd Cutler was to President Jimmy Carter and probably will be to President Clinton: an adviser with a good feel for what is right and wrong in Washington, who will be listened to by the president -
Presidents, of course, should have their own moral compass. But a president can confuse himself with the powerful office he has been given by the voters. If not careful, he can succumb to the belief that he knows best on just about everything. In Washington this feeling of self-importance is called ``Potomac fever.''
That sage, James Reston, has observed that the best treatment for this Washington ``disease'' - too often also contracted by members of the House and Senate - is for a loving spouse frequently to make it plain to the lawmaker that he or she is the same person now as before being elected.
Hillary Rodham Clinton will not be timid in keeping her husband down to earth. But she doesn't have the Washington experience to give him the kind of wise advice he'll now be getting from Mr. Cutler. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton herself may need to avoid ``Potomac fever.'' She has been showered with praise for her powerful role in Washington. Her supporters see a particularly strong and sure-footed woman. But detractors think her high flying has gone a bit to her head.
Cutler didn't come on board to prick egos - although this sometimes crusty fellow may do just that if he finds it necessary. But he knows he faces a daunting task: He must insist on cooperation from an administration that has called him in simply because it has already failed the standard of cooperation widely expected of it. Further, he is hampered by his (and everyone's, it seems) lack of understanding of the Clintons' dealings with a failed Arkansas savings and loan.
Mrs. Clinton has said, rather vaguely, that she and the president made some ``mistakes''. But for fuller details Cutler may have to wait on the results of the probe being carried out by Robert Fiske Jr., the independent counsel looking into Whitewater.
Cutler has signed on for only a brief period. Perhaps he believes the furor over Whitewater will have blown over in a few weeks. But I think this president sees that he will need someone with long Washington experience and a cool head at his side from now on.