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U.S. Reaction to Clinton Is Mixed

August 18, 1998

Embarrassed but engrossed by an extraordinary piece of political theater, Americans watched their president bare his most personal secrets Monday night and promptly returned a mixed verdict of condemnation and satisfaction.

``Closed chapter,″ one said. Another called him ``an incurable teen-ager.″ A third reflected the sentiments of many: ``He lied.″

In bars and living rooms, stores and college study lounges, they struggled to sort out this lurid twist in American politics and seemed just as split as before: Those who disliked Clinton still disliked him, and those who had faith before expressed faith anew.

A CBS News instant poll showed early reaction solidly in Clinton’s favor, with 59 percent saying they were satisfied with the statement and 63 percent saying the matter should now be dropped. The margin of error was 5 percentage points.

``He’s an incurable teen-ager, but probably one of the most capable presidents we’ve ever had,″ said Allen Balbier, a registered Democrat drinking at the Knickerbocker, a bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

An exhausted-looking Clinton, in a tense, taut statement that excruciatingly blended the personal and the political, acknowledged inappropriate contact with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and told of answering ``questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.″

And, it seemed, Americans agreed. While the mess was an unprecedented political scandal for Washington, for Americans it was also a torturous domestic ordeal _ one that many could identify with and, it seemed, one that many were ready to forget.

``He admitted enough to satisfy the American people. I hope it’s done,″ said Marti Peterson, a Republican who owns a marketing firm in Beaverton, Ore. ``I respect him more because he addressed the American public and said now it’s done. Let’s get to work and build America.″

The first reaction to Clinton’s address seemed to mirror opinion polls taken in recent days; many people suggested that foibles are natural.

``Presidents aren’t gods. They are normal human beings,″ said Lorie Straugh-Grossman, 42, of Metuchen, N.J. ``I think perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect that he will be a role model for my children. He is an extremely capable and intelligent president. That’s what is important.″

But talk kept returning to one thing: lying.

``He was like a little kid saying, ’I took the cookies out of the cookie jar, now let’s just change the subject,‴ said Allison LePock, 35, of Chesapeake, Va.

At a Hooters restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, Clinton’s speech was greeted by laughter, jeers and some booing. One person screamed, ``Bill, you’re a phony.″

``He lied,″ said Sean Stennett, 27, a Clinton supporter. ``He disrespected his wife, child and country. If he knew he did wrong, he should have admitted it sooner.″

Lizette Baumgartner, a Sparta, N.J., computer consultant and a Republican who said she voted for Clinton twice, seemed unsatisfied. ``It was sort of, `I didn’t inhale.′ He’s playing on words,″ she said. But she acknowledged: ``The fact he has to talk about his personal life is ludicrous.″

In Sandy Springs, a northern suburb of Atlanta, Suzi Voyles and her husband Jim sat in their living room decorated with more than 15 American flags, hanging on every word the president said.

``I have trouble having confidence in a man who doesn’t have the foresight to see the consequences of his actions. I have a problem with a man who seeks to protect himself before he protects his country,″ Mrs. Voyles said. ``His poor judgment has shown he’s not worthy of the office he’s holding.″

The Rev. Hans Voss, 78, a retired Lutheran minister, watched with his wife in their Wake Forest, N.C., home. ``A brilliant man with many gifts so wasted,″ he said of Clinton.

``He’s crying for help right now, which is good,″ said his wife, Alice.

Beverly Goldberg, a lifelong Democrat and Clinton supporter watching in the TV lounge of a retirement home in Scottsdale, Ariz., pronounced it over and done.

``Closed chapter. He admitted his mistake. Should it be held against him the rest of his life?″ Ms. Goldberg said. ``He’s a man. She probably threw herself at him.″

But she wondered: ``How is he going to face his wife and child?″

At T.G.’s Bar in Jefferson City, Mo, a group of men playing darts and smoking cigars paused to watch Clinton’s speech, then shook their heads.

``I’m sick and tired of reducing our presidency to tabloid trash,″ said Jerry Green, taking a long drag on his cigar. ``I never voted for Bill Clinton, but he was man enough to admit it and I would vote for him now if I had a chance.″

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