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Couple Annoyed at National Spectacle

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Sue Anne Pressley
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, January 17, 1999; Page A28

    PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. – Every night, Clara Phillips, 62, returns from work to Century Village – the strictly adult community here where every resident is expected to live to at least 100 – and grills her retired husband, Leon, about what happened to President Clinton that day.

    On an evening last week, the exchange went something like this:

    At first, as always, Leon, 68, protested that he could not bear to watch any more of the president's impeachment trial, then provided the day's developments in detail. Then, growing increasingly excited, he launched into his patented rant against Republican leaders.

    "These Republicans, God has given them an order that they have to protect the American people!" he shouted, waving his arms. "It is absolutely unbelievable! It is just amazing how these Republicans get the word straight from the Lord!"

    "They're just harassing the poor man," said Clara.

    "What's this poor man?" asked Leon. "He's not a poor man!"

    "You're crazy," Clara said matter-of-factly, turning her head in a dismissive fashion.

    "I'm an abused husband," said Leon, pretending to complain. "She abuses me."

    Clara and Leon Phillips, married for 39 years, routinely entertain family and friends with their displays of combative affection. For the past year, the president's travails have given them plenty of pseudo-fireworks, although on the key points they largely agree: The whole thing is "ridiculous," to use their favorite word on the subject. It is sinful, the amount of money being poured into this travesty. And when is everybody going to get back to the real problems facing this country, like Social Security and Medicare and the exorbitant costs of growing older and falling ill?

    "How much were my bills in the hospital?" asked Leon, who suffers from arthritis and diabetes and is largely confined to home.

    "I don't want to talk about it," Clara replied. "One week, $12,000."

    The Phillipses, who moved to South Florida from Chicago 18 years ago and owned several vacuum-cleaner stores here, used to be Democrats. Now they consider themselves independents, capable of voting both for President Clinton and new Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

    In Century Village, a huge, gated community here in this Broward County town adjoining Miami-Dade, they are surrounded by 14,000 older adults with similar concerns. Clara, a staffing coordinator for a home health-care agency, considered retiring last summer, but she said the couple would have a hard time without her salary and insurance benefits.

    For fun, Leon likes to play bridge; she enjoys long walks. They dote on their two grown sons, one a radiology technician, the other a doctor – "My son, the doctor," says Clara, "I'm a Jewish mother, what can I tell you?" – and their two young grandchildren.

    But the spectacle of the past year in Washington has exasperated them. They view Clinton as a fine president whose private behavior involving "his zipper," as they put it, led him astray. That he would then turn and allegedly lie about his relationship with the former White House intern Clara describes as "Miss Lewinsky, the little angel," is understandable, they agree. What they don't get is the seemingly rabid partisan effort to embarrass and perhaps oust him.

    "It seems the Republicans had an agenda to go after the president," Leon said. "The American people keep telling them, 60 percent and more, keep telling them, 'We don't want this.' If we don't want it, how come we got it? Now, if he was giving secrets to another government, if he did something that really would be against the United States, I would consider impeaching him. But lying under oath on sexual charges? No way."

    Clara, whose parents emigrated from Russia to pre-Castro Cuba, thinks a dose of something like the Castro regime might make people here change their priorities.

    "You know what? This is what the United States would need, a president or somebody like Castro," she said. "Boy, they wouldn't impeach him, they wouldn't have time to even move. Here, they have nothing else to do, so they're impeaching and spending tax dollars for stuff that is completely stupid. Forty million dollars! My God, I would know what to do with $40 million."

    As the story has unfolded, the Phillipses agree that no real heroes have emerged, with the possible exception of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    "I think she's been a lady," said Clara, as Leon nodded vigorously. "She's very popular, and you want to know something? I don't know how she felt, because my husband didn't do this to me – that I know of." She cut a look at Leon, who laughed and shook his head. "He'd be afraid of me, I think. I told him a long time ago that that is one thing I will not stand for. But they definitely have some kind of arrangement, I think."

    And the villain of the piece?

    "I can't call him a schmuck," said Leon, "but this Kenneth Starr, they pay this Starr all that money to ask questions – 'What did he touch and when did he touch it?' It's an interesting subject, but it's not so important. To be honest with you, I was more concerned that [head football coach] Jimmy Johnson would leave the Miami Dolphins than I was that these idiots were going to impeach the president."

    Neither thinks the matter will be resolved soon. The trial will drag on, they said, and Clinton will be dogged until the very end.

    "If he's not thrown out of office," Leon predicted, "it won't be over until he's out of office."

    On this point, Clara could fully agree.

    "They'll just find something else and something else and something else," she said. "Like a thorn in his you-know-what."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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