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Henry Hyde
In House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde's Illinois district, the allegations concerning President Clinton are not taken as seriously as in Washington. (TWP)

Washington's Uproar Muted in Midwest

By Jon Jeter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 9, 1998; Page A06

NAPERVILLE, Ill., Feb. 8—It was a slow weekend night at the Applebee's restaurant here. From behind the bar, Gary Sibille was amusing himself and a few customers by telling a few of the jokes that have circulated around this Chicago suburb of late.

"Why hasn't the White House made more progress in the Middle East?" he says with a wry smile. "Because Clinton still thinks that the Gaza Strip is the place to go for a lap dance."

Sibille laughs heartily and then returns to tending bar. The allegations that President Clinton had a sexual relationship with a young White House intern, then urged her to lie about it, are viewed by many in this heavily Republican enclave of affluent, hard-working families as about as relevant -- and perhaps as low-brow -- as a monologue by television comedian Jay Leno.

Some here believe the president should be embarrassed, perhaps reprimanded in some fashion if the allegations prove to be true. But to most, the president's legal and ethical problems are the stuff of bawdy jokes and casual banter, not of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Of more than two dozen people interviewed this weekend, only two countenanced removing him from office.

"If there's evidence he engaged in perjury then yes, he should go," said Mike Launi, a 41-year-old engineer who is a registered Republican. "Definitely, he should go," said Launi's wife, Mary, an art buyer.

But few seem excited by the daily leaks and revelations that suggest Clinton may have carried on an affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, the former White House intern. In restaurants and bars, outside movie theaters and gas stations, even Clinton's most ardent critics believe that the sex scandal is below the political radar, a creation of Washington that has little to do with real life. For some here in DuPage County, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has lower name recognition than Ringo Starr.

What prompts folks' interest is whether the Chicago Bulls can win a sixth National Basketball Association title this season.

"We might talk about Clinton for two or three minutes at work," said James Jones, a 26-year-old market researcher. "But then we move on to sports or something else. I don't think too many people around here think we should impeach him."

"We don't pay no mind to it, to tell you the truth," said Bill Vanrossen, 43, finishing off his salad. "We just feel like it's none of our business."

That brand of indifference here may be instructive for congressional Republicans. If Starr should present any evidence to Congress, it would go to the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, a Republican who has represented DuPage County and other parts of the Sixth Congressional District since 1974. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton grew up near here in Park Ridge, but Sixth District voters favored George Bush and Robert J. Dole over Clinton in the last two presidential elections. DuPage County has not elected a Democrat to a countywide office in 12 years.

If Clinton can get a pass here, he likely can get a pass anywhere, residents say. Even if Clinton is guilty of the most grave accusations -- that he committed perjury and encouraged Lewinsky to do the same -- it is not lost on many people here that even those charges stem from Paula Jones's sexual harassment civil suit against the president.

"If he harassed Paula Jones, well, that would be a bad thing, but that's for the two of them to work out," said Curtis Ellis, a 27-year-old entrepreneur and a Republican. "Likewise, if he slept with Monica Lewinsky, that's for the two of them and Hillary to work through. I don't think any of that is among the more pressing issues of the day for the American people."

The controversy in Washington isn't even the hottest political story in these parts. DuPage County will elect a new commission chairman, and reports have surfaced that one of the candidates may have shepherded some allegedly shady land deals through for a developer while he was a county commissioner.

"Certainly what's going on in Washington has been a topic of conversation here," said Bridgett Bittman, spokeswoman for the DuPage County Board of Commissioners. "But we've got some local races here that are really heating up, and that seems a bigger deal around here."

There are "just a lot more important things to deal with," said Roy Schwantes while fueling his car. "I mean, why is the media so concerned with impeachment?" Schwantes is an independent who voted for Dole in the last election. "What we should be talking about is that we are going to have the first balanced budget in more than three decades. That's going to impact our children, not this sleaze that is masquerading as news. We're about to go to war with Iraq. Isn't that more important that anything that went on between the president and some star-struck intern?"

"I'm still not 100 percent sure that he did it," said Sibille, the bartender. "But even if he did, I don't think that's grounds for impeachment. I'm a Republican, and I think the guy's a hypocrite the way he always comes out for family values and building stable families, but I don't think he's really any more guilty than anyone else. At work, I'll take an envelope. It may be just a three-cent envelope, but I still took it. Should I get fired for that?"

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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