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'They're Making Too Big a Deal About It'


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By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 1998; Page A12

PAWNEE, Okla., Sept. 22—In the drizzly predawn hours at a local breakfast hangout here, Art Stokes, 74, summed up President Clinton's videotaped testimony this way:

"I watched four hours and 12 minutes of it and didn't learn one new thing, not one thing," said the former roughneck, paralyzed after a fall from an oil rig 15 years ago. "He's a liar. We already know that. He answered their stupid questions, and they kept asking the same questions until he wouldn't answer anymore. They ought to just censure him and let's move on. . . . Enough already."

At the Pawnee Grill 90 miles north of Oklahoma City, where eggs start sizzling at 5 a.m. and the booths are red vinyl, the waitresses, salesmen and weather-worn farmers were as fired up as ever the morning after viewing Clinton's taped testimony. They said they are sick of all the sex, lies and videotapes -- but most of them continue to follow every nuance of the scandal.

At a dozen bustling tables, many of the 30 or so customers in this coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking crowd saw some or all of the president's testimony. The result was nearly as many opinions as customers.

But one thread ran through the comments: Few minds were changed by what they heard and saw. Clinton sympathizers viewed the tape's release as a Republican conspiracy to embarrass the president, and the president's detractors still think he should be run out of Washington.

"I think what he does is his own damn business, and they ought to leave him alone," declared Clara Casey, a 37-year-old waitress. "So what was new yesterday? I don't think he should have lied, but they're just making too big a deal about it."

Red Palmer, a farmer and World War II veteran, begged to differ. "He dodged every bullet and he told 'em nothing. He ought to be court-martialed," said Palmer, 78. "He's the commander in chief. He's admitted he's done something wrong and now he should step down."

"It just looked like more of the same to me," added Charlie Elliott, a cattle auctioneer, as he poured hot sauce on his hash browns. "He talked about being repentant but he didn't repent until he had to. The tape just showed that he's still splitting hairs, weaseling and worming around."

Del Zoldoske, a Republican, said that after seeing the taped testimony, he is more convinced than ever that the president's evasiveness is preventing closure on the scandal.

"He just talked himself in circles as he always does. He took forever and he never answered the questions," said Zoldoske, who believes the president should be censured, not impeached. "I just wish he had told the truth eight months ago and we could move on. We are sending a bad message to our kids, that you can lie and obstruct justice."

Pawnee, named for the Indian tribe, is a town of 2,100 surrounded by soybean and wheat farms that, along with the school system, are the town's biggest employers. The town has two traffic lights and a half-dozen churches. Hefty pickup trucks start lining the main street long before the sun rises.

One farmer who joined the early-morning crowd said he could not bear to watch the president Monday -- but had a hard time escaping him.

"I just kept switching the channel trying to get away from it," said Billy Kelly, 63. "It's just gotten too far afield now. I wish they'd never started it. I actually turned to the Weather Channel and stared at it for awhile till my wife got sick of it."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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