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Cautious hope, nagging doubts, for Clinton sequel

January 18, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ People are banging drums of confidence, slowly, at the dawn of President Clinton’s second term.

They’re guessing they’ve seen the end of big chunks of policy from the president. Instead, a term of ``bits and pieces″ seems to be the way.

``No dramatic improvement, no catastrophe,″ predicts a small-town Virginia accountant disappointed with Clinton. ``We’re in a better way,″ says a Baltimore advertising director whose view of the president is upbeat.

As Clinton’s second term gets set to begin Monday, expectations appear to be as cautious as the ideas from his campaign _ keep working the budget into balance, cut some taxes, do something about health care, steady the course.

That was expressed often when almost 150 people across America sized up Clinton and the country in interviews with Associated Press reporters.

``To me, he’s just average,″ said William Theaman, 36, of Indianapolis. ``That’s what I like _ average.″

Credit for what’s right in people’s lives is offered grudgingly to a man re-elected with support from not quite half of those who bothered to vote.

And questions about Clinton’s conduct of his business and his personal life nag at many citizens otherwise drawn to him. It may not rain on his inaugural parade, but there’s a drip, drip, drip.

``All the scandals going on, he’s had too many,″ said Jennifer Bjorkland, 28, of Portland, Ore. ``They can’t all be fake or created by the Republican Party. I’ve kind of lost respect for him.″

``These continual, non-ceasing scandals and improprieties _ they’re legion,″ the Virginia accountant, Ronald J. Warner, 70, said from a Culpeper office cluttered with tax forms and mementos of his Merchant Marine and Navy past.

``Let’s go on and do something about Social Security. Let us do something about Medicare. Let us go on. The country needs to be governed.″

Still, because of Clinton, despite him, regardless of him, there is a recognition conditions have improved.

``I think this country is moving forward,″ said Ted Fuson, new pastor at the Culpeper Baptist Church where Clinton worshiped four years ago on a bus trip to his first inauguration.

It’s possible, said Fuson, a conservative, that ``we may look back and say, that was a creative bunch of things done.″

The sermon that day was about sticking up for your convictions. Opinion is divided on whether Clinton took the lesson to heart.

``I think he tells people what they want to hear,″ said Aimee Kerrigan, 27, a Dallas office assistant who voted for Republican Bob Dole. ``I don’t feel like he can take a stand on an issue and stay with it all the way through.″

But partisans on both sides also point to bold strokes, like the welfare revisions now going into effect and the health care overhaul that failed.

``There’s confidence in the economy and people are able to spend money,″ said David Hoeckel, 44, the Baltimore advertising man.

In Oregon, Lake Oswego restaurateur Tom Hume pulled a wad of cash from his pocket and let that speak for itself.

Others aren’t so exuberant. ``We’re drifting and this is dangerous for us and the world,″ said labor attorney Ransom Ellis Jr. in Springfield, Mo.

Like him or not, people share a sense the lights are on at the White House.

``I think he’s awake,″ said Laconia, N.H., landscaper Bill Herbert, 49, just back from ice sailing on Lake Winnipesaukee. ``I don’t think we’ve had a president for a long time who was awake.″

Hardly a ringing endorsement. But moods and circumstances are mixed.

One in five children lives perpetually in poverty. Parents and politicians decry the public schools and mean streets, and worries about moral and social decline run deep.

Yet the economic expansion, third longest in history, is almost six years old. No wars engage the country.

``I think things are getting better for us,″ said custodian Dudley House, 77, mopping up slush tracked into his St. Louis building.

``But I hope he doesn’t let them take the welfare away from people who really need it.″

``I’m on welfare and I can tell you it still needs to be cleaned up,″ asserted Joelene Jansen, 20, working in an Albuquerque, N.M., gas station.

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