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Hillary Clinton might as well admit she "can't help lovin' dat man'

She has vowed she won't, but if she discusses her love life for print again, the first lady would do better to repair to poets and songwriters, not the psychologists she quoted in her infamous interview in Talk magazine.

They are much more helpful _ and succinct _ in explaining the dilemma of a worthy woman who has mated for life to a man who does not emulate her virtues.

William Butler Yeats said it all in a few lines: "... some fine women eat/A crazy salad with their meat."

He was speaking, of course, of his great love, Maude Gonne, the glorious beauty who spurned him to marry "a drunken vainglorious lout," as Yeats described him in one of the greatest poems of the 20th century, Easter 1916.

Noel Coward understood the problem, too. Listen to his hit song, Mad About the Boy: "Although I'm quite aware that here and there/Are traces of the cad about the boy."

The world is full of women who are joined to louts, heels, boors, blowhards, lushes and lechers, men who smoke smelly cigars and roost in their loungers for 10 hours at a stretch watching football, men who sneer at them and put them down in company, who show up five minutes before a dinner party she has slaved over for his boss. Men who belch, bark and leave wet towels on the floor and have never been known to take a dirty plate to the kitchen or a message for their wives _ and never dreamed of changing a baby.

Hillary has long since tied up the worthy wives' vote _ the women like herself who put up with outrageous behavior because, when you come right down to it, they don't really want to leave because, well, "I love him, he's I don't know, he's just my Bill." Women say things like: "He's so sweet when nobody else is around" or "He's a good provider" or "He's shy."

There are all sorts of reasons for staying with a man who lies, cheats, steals or whines. Maybe he does the income taxes. Maybe he can find his way in Virginia after dark and she can't stand going to parties alone.

I remember meeting an Englishwoman on a boat many years ago. She was newly widowed, and as the boat neared its destination, she began a lament about her late husband. I waited for tributes to his kindly nature or sensitive soul. What she said was, "He was so clever with tickets and things."

Or maybe the thumb on the stay-or-go scales was the thought of the alternative, moving from a comfortable house and routine. A friend said once, after detailing the flaws of her spouse, "Do you think I want to live in a furnished room by myself?"

Few like to come right out and say that they are hooked. They are emotionally dependent. Hillary Clinton has traveled the world lecturing women in Outer Mongolia or Beijing about the importance of being independent _ while Air Force Two was parked outside to whisk her back to a life of spousal privilege.

People won't think less of her if she says, along with Henry Higgins, that she has grown accustomed to "something in the air." It would be so much better than pointing the finger at his mother and his grandmother. It's no crime to fall for a good-looking guy. Talk magazine publisher Tina Brown has testified to the president's sexiness _ "tall and absurdly debonair."

Hillary's problem is that she insists on investing everything she does with significance. She demands to be compared to Eleanor Roosevelt, who was also humiliated by her husband. Hillary, however, knows everything but humility. She wants to excuse him because of childhood "abuse," and she wants to excuse herself as much.

Maybe New York will teach her humility and a little humor. Better women than she have been married to worse men than him. Of course, it is of importance to us when he is the leader of the Western world.

He thought he deserved credit for marrying a brain _ he had a hankering for beauty queens _ and she thought she was bringing Wellesley enlightenment to the Ozarks. They did very well for themselves. They're still keeping score. He needed her to get to the top and stay there. Now she needs him so she can get to the Senate and away from him.

Hillary has been arguing with herself since she sat up late in Little Rock waiting for the troopers to bring her husband home. She could have quoted Show Boat then:

"He can come home as late as can be,

"Home without him ain't no home to me,

"Can't help lovin' dat man of mine."

She could quote it now.

Mary McGrory is a Washington Post columnist.

Universal Press Syndicate