After 13 months, U.S. grapples with impeachment's end; Americans express relief and frustration as Clinton trial concludes; THE IMPEACHMENT VERDICT


Lots of Americans woke up today like somebody who has just had an aching tooth pulled: They felt a whole lot better, but there was a great big hole left.

The 13-month presidential scandal ended yesterday with the two small bangs of acquittal, a whole lot of whimpering from wounded politicians and an almost audible sigh of relief from across the country.

Up in Bangor, Maine, Dan Namowitz, a graduate business student and flight instructor, literally breathed a long sigh: "I guess I'm just wondering what the Clinton scandal will be next week."

He was sure there will be one.

"Because the actual act that led to the impeachment took place while he was being investigated" for his role in the Whitewater land deal, Namowitz, 46, marveled.

The impeachment procedure took so much time away from the nation's other business, he said, "it made you wonder if we need a full-time government."

In Lincoln, Mont., population 800, Teresa Garland, who runs the general store, said she's still angry because she had to explain the president's conduct to her 11-year-old triplets.

"That's really hard to do," said Garland, 45.

"And not until [yesterday] did he sound honest when he said I am sorry I made the country so divided," she added. "He did take the blame for making us go through all this. He was kind of sad and quivery. I just thought that's an honest moment for a very dishonest man. And that's a start."

Back in Delaware County, Pa., Franz Lidz, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, snapped: "Without the impeachment, Jay Leno might accidentally become funny."

Late-night talk show hosts were certainly among the most avid consumers of Clinton impeachment trivia. President Clinton's peccadilloes invited double-entendre "and the dreary Drudgery of off-color news," Lidz said, making a reference to Matt Drudge, whose Web site helped bring the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal into public view.

Lidz, 47, said the Republicans blew their chances in the first seven months of the impeachment proceedings: "The Republicans kept repeating themselves and just bored everybody to death."

He was also critical of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr: "He spent $50 million and got a $50 dress from The Gap."

Out on the West Coast, about three blocks from the beach at Santa Monica, Dorothy Grossman, an office manager and poet dismissed the whole thing: "It's an alternate universe. I can't bring myself to watch."

"Listen, I'm prejudiced," said Mark Baladi, a Baltimore cabdriver, "I absolutely can't stand Clinton."

"I think he should [have been] found guilty at least of obstruction of justice," he said. "Inciting Sidney Blumenthal to lie and spread lies. The president telling him to lie. That was to me the most shameful of all. I think he shouldn't be president."

Baladi, who described himself as a die-hard Republican, said, "I never liked him. I thought he was a pretty shoddy character right from the start. He was lying about Gennifer Flowers back in 1992. That was my gut feeling, and it turned out to be true.

"This thing in the Senate turned out to be almost meaningless," he said. "Let's move on."

Baladi thinks Clinton might have lost some authority and therefore some effectiveness as president. "But nothing bothers him," he says. "Censure would roll off his back like [water off] a duck. He'll just do what he wants to do."

Ernest Florio, 67, a semi-retired public servant from Media, Pa., joked that Clinton's popularity rating would go up 10 points today.

But Florio saw Clinton as "just a product of the history of male dominance in our society.

"It's not high crimes and misdemeanors," he said. "It's what men do when they've been caught."

Florio said Clinton should never have been allowed to rise to the level of the presidency.

But Florio, an independent who voted for Clinton, said, "I like him as president.

"He knows how to lie, smile, cheat and cry and all that's needed in a world where capitalism is running rampant."

Out in Phoenix, Ariz.,Howard Seftel, a restaurant critic, said, "I assume people back east are as sick to death of this as we are here."

Seftel, 49 and a former college history teacher, said "I must be the only Democrat on the planet who's sorry [Clinton was] acquitted."

Seftel said: "Somehow the Republicans have been so stupid they've made the president look good."

But he saw the impeachment more in terms of a job review than a coup d'etat.

"This guy has no shame," he said. "It's not what he did. It's the lack of judgment. The lack of judgment is frightening.

"People used to have character; now they have personalities."

He, too, thought the president was incapable of remorse: "I don't think he can be made to feel bad."

He recalled watching the impeachment hearings for Richard Nixon 34 years ago, and quoted Karl Marx on history playing out in two acts -- the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

"Watergate was tragedy," he said. "This is farce."

Pub Date: 2/13/99

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