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CALIFORNIA
'It Was Like a Long, Bad Joke'

   

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By Rene Sanchez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 1998; Page A12

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Sept. 22—In the chic coffeeshops and colorful juice joints that line Main Street here, tables buzzed with chatter and debate today about the marathon airing of President Clinton's taped grand jury testimony. The voices were weary, disconsolate or furious.

Even in this media hothouse, where just last week reports of a firecracker exploding outside Monica S. Lewinsky's family home in nearby Brentwood sent television trucks and news helicopters into a frenzy, people have a limit on drama and scandal. And many here who watched Clinton's performance on videotape Monday, along with exhaustive analysis of it afterward, said they have had all they can take of this one.

"I just sat there in disbelief as I was watching -- it was like a long, bad joke," David Wally, a 36-year-old film producer, said as he finished reading the paper at a breakfast shop.

"I actually felt for the guy more than I did before. He had to sit there answering all of those incredibly personal questions over and over. And he really wasn't profane during the testimony, like they all said he would be. I actually thought he came off poised and strong, mostly.

"I know for sure now that he had an affair with her and lied about it, and I'm not happy about that," Wally added, "but I still don't think it's something you bring down a president and divide the country over."

Echoes of those sentiments were common. Even people who expressed deep disappointment in Clinton's personal conduct, or who mocked him for using tortured, hairsplitting language during parts of the testimony, said that overall the president handled the intense questioning with more civility and remorse than they had anticipated. No one said his or her outlook on the scandal was profoundly changed by the video.

"After seeing him on television, I started joking with some of my girlfriends that now when we ask a boyfriend or a guy about infidelity, we had better make sure we have the verb tenses in our questions straight," said Jackie Johnson, a television programmer in her thirties who lives in Hollywood, as she had bagels before work with a friend. "Some of his explanations were definitely ridiculous. But come on -- now we know all that we need to know about this. I think anything beyond this point is counterproductive for the country."

Her friend, Jennifer Bresnan, a 29-year-old music programmer who lives in Beverly Hills, agreed. "I am so over this whole thing now," she said. "What struck me as I watched parts of it was that they really seemed out to get him. And for what?"

Up the busy street, an artistic and media hangout in Santa Monica, Elizabeth Ryan and Bob Prescott were having coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Middle-aged executives in Los Angeles, both said Clinton's performance only strengthened their belief that the investigation into his personal life has gone on too long.

"I still hope that he will survive this and get back to focusing on work," Prescott said.

"I've been disappointed, but I'm also starting to believe that this investigation is a complete waste of time," Ryan said. "So many other presidents have done the same thing, they just weren't caught when they were still in office. There was nothing in all of that video that changed my mind, so I think we should move on."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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