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Tuned Out, Turned Off on a Boat

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Rene Sanchez
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, February 9, 1999; Page A5

    MARINA DEL REY, Calif.—Nick Cecola had the television inside his boat tuned to Washington and what he calls "the impeachment thing." But the sound was off. And Cecola, docked here next to the Pacific, was out on deck in the sun, paying no attention.

    "Can't watch it anymore," he told a visitor to his boat this weekend. "I'm endured out, man."

    Cecola, 37, looks like he just wandered off the set of a Southern California beach movie. He is tanned and stocky and sports a hip goatee and wraparound shades that never come off. He runs a construction business in nearby Los Angeles and lives single here on Aussie D, the 38-foot trawler he bought a decade ago, bobbing in endless sunshine and cool ocean breezes.

    It takes a lot to bum him out. But the Senate trial of President Clinton, and before that the House impeachment hearings, and before that the investigation and report by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, have managed to do it. And here is the strange part, Cecola said: "I never even voted for that guy."

    A staunch Republican -- he said he trusts the GOP more with his money -- Cecola speaks with unmitigated contempt for Clinton. He believes the president lied under oath and took illegal steps to hide his affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also says Clinton did not fool him when he wagged his finger at a news conference last year and told Americans that he did not have sexual relations with her.

    "That was my favorite moment," he said. "Right away, I said to myself, 'Guilty.' "

    When the Senate trial started last month, Cecola said, he tried once again to get riveted, to find reasons that would convince him Clinton had to go.

    "Man, I only lasted maybe for four hours watching it closely," he said. "But it was just the same old stuff, over and over."

    Ever since, he has not cared about hearing witnesses, live or on videotape. He has not paid much attention to the pleas of House managers or to the defense mounted by the president's lawyers. And he tries to ignore coverage of the trial, which he bumps into every day as he checks cable news channels -- his boat has a satellite dish -- for the latest stock market reports.

    By now, he just wants it to end.

    "It's kind of become like the O.J. trial -- everyone knows he did it, and everyone knows he's going to survive, so let's just get it over with and get on to something else, like Social Security or whatever," Cecola said. "I keep hearing the trial is almost over. Right -- I'll believe that when I see it. I don't think the politicians and the news shows really even want it to end."

    Cecola, who moved to the Los Angeles area 13 years ago from Louisiana, a state where political scandal is practically a tourist attraction, still sounds somewhat startled by his apathy. But something in the nature of the case against Clinton and the tactics of his accusers, he said, has never quite won him over.

    He is, foremost, a realist: Men constantly lie about sex, he said. It is not a pretty sight -- but it also does not really seem like something to disrupt a nation over.

    "Look, I'm sure there have been many other presidents who have done exactly what Clinton did; let's not be naive about this," Cecola said. "Clinton was just the only one of them stupid enough to get caught. Actually, he seems to get caught every time. He'll probably get caught again after this is over."

    There is also the classic sound of bedrock American pragmatism in Cecola's assessment of the impeachment case. He says he does not quite understand why Clinton's approval ratings in national polls are still so high -- "especially out there in the Midwest" -- but if the majority of the American people want him to stay on the job, Cecola says so be it.

    "I can live with it because we won't have to live with him forever -- what is it, just 23 more months? Plus, he's already has been pretty humiliated by the whole thing," he said. "And if people think the economy is great because of him, fine. We have another election in 2000, and everyone gets their chance again."

    Besides, Cecola said, the case against Clinton has never really struck him as a grave constitutional crisis for the country, no matter what his fellow Republicans say. Most of the time, from here on his oceanside perch, it has just seemed like the kind of tawdry, sad political soap opera that Hollywood cooks up all the time. And he talks about its star characters with a weary familiarity.

    When Cecola ducked inside the cabin of his boat for a moment, he noticed that a tape of Lewinsky was back on the television screen, yet again. "It looks like she's put on a few pounds lately," he said, and he reached for a beer.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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