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Readers wax, wane, wax again on Clinton

In view of the impending vote on impeachment in the House it seems a timely moment to refer to my mail bag for an insight into what the public is thinking about this president.

Early this year when the Lewinsky episode first surfaced my mail was about evenly divided between those readers who were repelled by the president's behavior and those who were not.

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By September most of our readers had lost faith in Clinton: The mail was running 3 to 1 against him. But since the November election the president's support has picked up markedly. Once again the mail is about evenly divided on what might be called the "Clinton moral question."

Earlier, I'd been highly criticized for what some readers were saying was my failure to give the president the presumption of innocence. But later, after Clinton's own admissions, the accusation changed. Now these readers are asserting that what Clinton did was "private" and certainly not impeachable.

Also, there is a thread of criticism through many letters, which a woman from Southfield, Mich., expresses: "It is my wish that you examine your own attitudes and opinions. Are you seeing the man of God's creating?"

And a professor emeritus from the University of Oregon observes: "At this point I have to ask of all Americans, who among us has no flaws?"

Many readers were responding to my puzzlement at the lack of outrage over Clinton's behavior in the November election results. One woman (and most of my critics are women) writes: "Judging by my gleanings among my friends - mostly women and mostly of very virtuous standards - Clinton was never mean, threatening, vindictive or hurtful. How could that be compared to the violence and dishonesty the news brings us everyday?"

She adds: "What was done was done in private. Starr made a pornographic carnival of it. Shame on him and those who egged him on. They made the US look hypocritical and funny."

One particularly interesting letter came from a woman in Montrose, Colo.: "I wrote you during the last election (1996), defending President Clinton, and comparing him to King David. But I've had a change of heart. When Mr. Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky was revealed, I felt a revulsion toward the deeds and the lying."

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She encloses a letter she has written to the President: "I am a 57-year-old lifelong Democrat. I voted for you twice because of your work ethic, your intellect, and for what I believed to be a reformed life from the immoral episodes that you participated in while governor of Arkansas.

"Had I known you were to have a tawdry and disgusting liaison with a young woman half your age, and in the White House where your wife and daughter lived, you never would have gained my votes. I watched much of your taped grand jury testimony, and while I used to defend you to those who called you slick, I found that a pretty apt description of you after viewing the testimony."

I was amused by one reader's criticism. In the last paragraph of a recent column I wrote that the president was "brilliant, hard-working, and wants to do good." My critic from Tulsa, Okla., had circled in red ink the word "brilliant" and then, alongside my column, she had scribbled: "You could have said that sooner and with more feeling."

I laughed a bit at that because earlier that same day a woman consumed with antipathy for Clinton's behavior, had rapped my knuckles for these complimentary comments about the president, even though I had followed them with this: "But he is also deeply flawed. The way Clinton has conducted himself has demeaned our country and the American people."

A card from a man (yes, I said a man) arrived just in time to give me some reassurance on this matter. "Don't worry," this resident of Delray Beach, Florida, wrote, "I and many and I'd say a majority of Monitor readers are on your side. Clinton did 'demean.'"

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