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Impeachment Sinks In With Public

December 21, 1998

BUTLER, Pa. (AP) _ On a morning made bleak by both weather and politics, Jill Cavalero emerged from a diner and produced two disparate thoughts about the newly impeached leader of the land.

The first: ``I still think he’s doing a pretty good job as president.″

The second, a moment later: ``I’m glad I’m not married to him, though.″

The high school librarian’s assessments, delivered under a light drizzle on the sidewalk of this hillside industrial town 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, were just two of millions across the country Sunday.

The events of an extraordinary weekend were beginning to sink in: President Clinton had been impeached. The House speaker-elect had quit. And, on top of it all, a bombing campaign against Iraq had just ended.

All the conflicted feelings, all the months of recriminations and accusations, all the uncertainties about the nation’s future were darting through American minds and ricocheting across tongues as people tried to make sense of the whole mess.

``Happy Holidays,″ quipped Barb Widenhofer, a drugstore manager a few blocks away. ``You just want it to be over.″

Like her, many want desperately to move on. But for all the talk of a cynical, jaded public, a tempered optimism often shone through.

``Our country seems to have a way of rising and overcoming obstacles,″ said Edward Wadding, an insurance and investment agent finishing the last crusts of his toast at the Olympic Diner on South Main Street. No fan of Clinton, he had favored censure nonetheless.

Dozens of interviews by Associated Press reporters across the nation Sunday, a day after the impeachment and House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston’s abrupt resignation, reflected this amalgam of distaste, disorientation and tempered optimism about the system, if not about its political stewards.

From south-central Los Angeles: ``I think the impeachment will be good for the country,″ said Clayton White, 46, who favors Clinton’s removal. ``It shows that we care a lot about truth, honesty and basic principles in this country.″

From Bismarck, N.D.: ``We’re a forgiving country,″ said Bev Clausnitzer, drinking coffee with her husband at a shopping mall. ``Look at O.J. You don’t hear anything about him anymore.″

From Detroit: ``He might have lied, but there isn’t anybody who has been in the White House who has been a prayerbook,″ said Gloria Chapman, 58, clutching a Bible after attending services at Little Rock Baptist Church.

From Levittown, N.Y.: ``It all could have been avoided a year ago,″ said Denny Greene, a retired police officer. ``All Clinton had to say was, ‘I did have an affair.’ The offense is so small; it’s the cover-up that’s always much worse.″

From Orlando, Fla.: ``Congress needs to be worrying about the country instead of just one man,″ said Bob Wilson, 50, a human relations manager.

From Newark, N.J.: ``Everyone’s got a skeleton in the closet,″ said Grace Hart, a cellist playing at Roseville Church. ``But now they’ll stay away, afraid to seek higher office because they’re afraid it will come out.″

From Milwaukee, Wis.: ``I’m torn between two extremes. I don’t think he should be impeached because the economy is good, but Clinton lied to the American people,″ Steve Detert, 51, said at the Comet coffee house. ``But it’s the Republicans’ fault for making the five o’clock news an X-rated show.″

And this wrenching thought, from Miami Shores, Fla.: ``I cried when I saw the papers this morning,″ said Eddie Morgan, 68, of Miami Beach, surrounded by myriad varieties of bagels at the Bagels & Co. deli-diner. ``I’m embarrassed to say that I’m an American.″

Butler, atop a ridge 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, was named for a Revolutionary War general. Signs at the edge of town welcome visitors to ``a worshipping community.″ Its people consider it a working-class, religious town that is often politically centrist; the county swung to Bob Dole by a 3-2 margin in 1996.

But here, like elsewhere, though opinions are strong on Clinton _ both for and against _ and people are tentative about the future, no one seems truly afraid for the republic.

``Look at Nixon. Look at Vietnam,″ said Wadding, the insurance and investment agent. ``We came back. We had scars then and we’ll have scars here. But we will come back.″

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