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Impeachment Sinks In With Public

December 20, 1998

BUTLER, Pa. (AP) _ A rainy, gray dawn broke over this western Pennsylvania hillside industrial town Sunday with a weary realization: America had impeached a president, lost a House speaker-to-be and finished bombing Iraq _ all in one breathless weekend.

Across breakfast tables, on street corners and outside the churches of this self-described ``worshipping community,″ the state of the nation was the topic of the day. Opinions abounded:

Impeachment was right. It was wrong. President Clinton is scum. The Republicans are out of control.

And most emphatic: It is time, finally time, to move on.

But for all the talk of a cynical, jaded public, the verdict _ in Butler and across the land amounted to: Yes, it is a bleak day, but the nation, and its ideals, will probably be OK.

``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. He had favored censure.

``People will come together over this,″ Wadding said. ``It’s a sad time, but we have the wherewithal, the resilience, to step forward and overcome the negatives.″

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

And one after another, whether pro- or anti-impeachment, people here arrived at the same conclusion: The time for change is at hand.

``It’s going to take some kind of a great leader, like a Truman, to turn us around,″ said retiree Norm Brahler. ``But I really don’t see anybody.″

Dozens of interviews by Associated Press reporters across the nation Sunday, a day after the impeachment and 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: ``Everyone without exception is going to pay for this needless witch hunt,″ said Rosa Lucas, 67, a retired public school teacher walking to church. She added: ``Those perpetrating the persecution are not going to be unharmed _ that’s already evident. When you harm other people, it comes back to you.″

From New York City: ``I was just traumatized for the country,″ said Sheila Herbert, a retired fashion director heading Sunday to Macy’s in Manhattan.

From Hineswille, Ga.: ``The government should leave moral issues to God,″ said Mike Hires, a tile contractor dining at the Huddle House restaurant. He did allow, though, that Clinton should face ``some kind of punishment ... a fine or community service.″

And from Charleston, W.Va.: ``Nixon, they forgave him. They’ll forget about it,″said Tom Carson, 71, a retired pharmacist, who said the whole thing bewildered him.

At the Christ the King Catholic Church, the largest Catholic congregation in Arkansas, Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert urged 1,200 parishioners to hold onto Christmas spirit. ``No matter which side of the aisle you are on philosophically,″ he said, ``it should pain you as an American.″

Back in Butler, outside the jam-packed Hot Dog Shop, which serves breakfast, Jill and Bob Cavalero _ she’s a school librarian, he’s a steelworker _ reiterated their support for Clinton the public servant. They wavered, however, when they considered Clinton the man.

``I still think he’s doing a good job as president,″ Mrs. Cavalero said. ``I’m glad I’m not married to him, though.″

Wadding, the insurance and investment agent, acknowledged he has no love lost for Clinton. He concedes that America has stumbled, and he’s worried. But only for the moment.

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

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