Having once, in a public setting and in front of my peers, been called a "smartass" by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), I suppose I should feel a certain amount of satisfac — er … let's just say I should be feeling "not sad" right about now. But, the truth is, I am quite sad …

I can probably count on one hand the numbers of times in my life when I have been accused of being the "voice of reason,” or a "moderating influence,” so it is with some amount of hesitancy that I suggest we all slow down a little bit, do some deep breathing, and not get too far ahead of ourselves here.

Insert here any one of my public, personal tirades about this kind of "thing" over the years (or insert your own, which would, no doubt, be much better) and you will get a good sense of my anger at those "public servants" who sometimes, indictable or not, develop a terminal case of what I call "creeping entitlement" after years of service.

Duke Cunningham didn't start out as a crook, did he? Bob Ney? I don't think so, and for the purposes of my rant, it would easier, cleaner, if they actually did start out that way. But they normally don't.

I am not saying that some "bad apples" don't sometimes slip through and start out their time on the Hill with one thought in mind: serving themselves and feathering their own nests and egos.

But let's get real here.

A large, large majority of House members and senators come here for the right reasons, conduct themselves honorably while they are here, and leave here (whether retired by the voters or by their own choosing) with that integrity intact.

Sure, Letterman, Leno, Colbert and Stewart are not going to do many jokes about them, because they don't quite fit the pre-established template of what "one of those crooked politicians" is supposed to look like, but those are the facts.

Doesn't mean they are perfect. Doesn't mean they don't, sometimes, for the sake of short-term gain, make wrong choices, vote the "wrong way,” or even step over the ethical line once in a while. "They" are "us.”

The rules of behavior on Capitol Hill, and any violations thereof, are not all that different from any other profession in America. Doctors. Lawyers. Indian chiefs. Whatever. There is always going to be the "nasty 1 percent" who, if they are not in jail, should be.

Ted Stevens could very well be in that category, but let's read the indictment, see what the government says, see what they have, and try, as best we can, to reserve judgment.

Being a veteran of the Gary Condit, William Jefferson, Duke Cunningham, et al Chase Patrols, I suspect the cable channels will soon (if not already) be slapping up hours and hours of Ted Stevens ducking into this or that elevator, hallway, car, etc.

Fine. Get the video. Watch the video. Enjoy it. Just try to remember that, in the middle of all this, Ted Stevens has served his country for a lifetime. Let's at least afford him some humane treatment and give him the benefit of doubt.

If Stevens is guilty, and goes the way of Bob Ney or Duke Cunningham, that will be a tragedy for him, his family, the people of Alaska, and the nation. There will be no reason to celebrate.

So let's take the charges seriously but always remember that little, quaint cliche that goes something like — I think I have this right — "innocent till proven guilty.”

Truth be told, Ted Stevens was pretty much on target when he labeled me with that "smartass" tag a few years ago. For better or worse, it is part of the "strategic" provocateur's role I like to play up here on the Hill to get the professional talking class off their talking points.

Let's hope like heck that our predisposed inclination to call Stevens a crook is not quite so accurate.