Crisis In Washington: Americans show they feel pain for Clinton

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NOTHING THAT President Bill Clinton has ever said produced more groans of cynicism nationwide than his "I feel your pain" declaration back in 1992. A politician pretending to feel empathy for Everyman? Tell us another one.

And yet here we are, two days after Mr Clinton's impeachment, and voters are returning him the favour. They, in vast numbers, are feeling his pain.

As Michael Kinsley, editor of the online Slate magazine writes in this week's Time, the real story of this extraordinary year in United States politics has not been that the President had his way with an intern in the Oval Office, or that he became the first US leader in 130 years to be punished with impeachment. The big revelation has been the reaction of the people. They did not turn against him. "Rarely," writes Mr Kinsley, "has such a clear consensus been so unexpected." Unexpected by whom? By the Republicans, one assumes, who ploughed on with impeachment even as the polls showed disapproval with their zeal.

And unexpected to the pundits and opinion-peddlers of Washington. That is not to say that public opinion is not having its impact today. Indeed, the polls are all that are saving President Clinton. He can afford to resist the notion of resigning because of them.

How, though, can we explain this loyalty? The easiest answer lies with the economy. Americans may be simply too comfortable to worry about the morals of the leader who has delivered it to them.

But there are other things about this scandal that many voters find far more distressing than what Bill Clinton did. Kenneth Starr has earned opprobrium from all but the most hard-core of Clinton haters. Voters were offended, above all, by the lurid details he put in the report he sent to Congress.

And voters hate the partisanship that became most apparent in Saturday's votes.

It may also be that they hate the intrusion that the impeachment effort represents. What wonderful irony: the Republicans are meant to stand for keeping the government out of the day-to-day living of Americans. Low taxes, minimum regulations, gun ownership and so forth. And yet here they are, tearing open the private life of the President and using what they find to try to force him out of office.

At bottom it may be that American society has simply moved on. There is, perhaps, a new tolerance, an understanding that humans are not perfect, not even the US President.