The Starr Report: America begins to turn its back

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ONE OF America's leading arbiters of taste turned her back on the President yesterday, the latest and perhaps most telling rebuke to a man who is becoming a pariah.

The distancing of America from the President - a man who thrives on closeness to people, and has depended upon a human relationship with the nation - is in full swing.

Martha Stewart, a guru for homemakers across the nation, said a television programme that she had prepared earlier including a lunch with the President would not go on air for the moment. "After reflection upon subsequent events and information and feedback from our audience, we feel that airing the programme would be inappropriate at this time," a spokesman said.

Ms Stewart had cooked salmon, baby artichokes and berry shortcakes for the President, and presented him with monogrammed pillows - something that might have seemed a little close to the knuckle.

Reactions from the media, politicians and public show that, above all else, the debate is becoming an anguished discussion of American values, not just of a man on trial.

The issues involved have sent the nation into an ethical spin. "This is a sacred process," said Richard Gephardt, the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives. "This is not politics." Polls show the public's increasing concern with morality, something that both reflects and influences their growing distaste for Mr Clinton. A study by the Washington Post yesterday showed that seven out of 10 believe adultery "should not be tolerated".

Yet there is still contradiction within the public reactions to Mr Clinton's misdoings. Fewer than half of those who said adultery should not be tolerated thought the President's affair with Ms Lewinsky was "important". The public has a sense of moral decline, with 76 per cent believing the country is "on the wrong track".Hillary Clinton and the Vice-President, Al Gore, score more highly, but the President's ratings have dragged down the Democrats' score. The "morality gap" between them and the Republicans has widened dramatically. And yet only one in three believes that the President should be impeached, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll.

The President's own moral guides are also offering diverging opinions. He has in the past leant on the Rev Robert Shuller, a pastor from California, for advice, but now Mr Shuller says he should resign. "He has to ask himself whether he will heal the breach through extended impeachment hearings, or whether prolonging this will only make it deeper and uglier," he told the New York Times.

Yet Philip Wogaman, pastor of the Foundry United Methodist church in Washington, where Mr Clinton worships, said it would be a grave mistake for him to resign.