Forgiving's One Thing, Forgetting's Another
By Paul Duggan
The newspaper lay on a counter top near a coffee urn and a half-empty box of glazed doughnuts in the kitchen of Christ Lutheran Church. Don Willhouse, 53, stood over the newspaper and said, "I think it's very sad for the country, that's for sure. . . . But other than that, I don't know what to think."
Like most of the 50 men and women gathered at Christ Lutheran, Willhouse wore the tan uniform of the Boy Scouts of America. He is commissioner of the Tomahawk District of the Texas Capital Area Council, a scouting region of about 3,000 boys in the suburbs 25 miles north of Austin. As commissioner, Willhouse was in charge of the big meeting in the church gymnasium.
It was a training session for scout leaders who got up early today and drove in a lashing rain from across the Tomahawk District to be here -- to sit in folding chairs and discuss knot-tying and tent-pitching, but also more important scouting fundamentals: ethical and moral values and how to instill them in youngsters.
And here with their doughnuts was the morning paper:
"Actions not impeachable, rebuttal says."
"Congress waits to see how public reacts."
If Kenneth W. Starr's detailed account of President Clinton's sexual affair with a former White House intern strikes other white, conservative-leaning, middle-class, church-going parents the way it struck the scout leaders here today, then a sizable number of Americans, like Don Willhouse, will not know what to think.
"The president made a mistake, and he tried to hide it," said Carl Edwards, 49, referring to Clinton's initial denial of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. "So you have to be angry at him. He can't do that. Especially when we -- the people in this room -- are here trying to teach our young people values, lead them to Eagle Scout."
But at the same time, they will tend toward forgiveness, as Edwards does. Like others here, he wears the "God and Country" patch on his uniform shirt, a patch he earned as a young scout by meeting one-on-one with his pastor each week for a year, talking over religious ideals.
"You have to let go of the anger," said Suzy Sutherland, 35. "You can't just blow up and say, 'Impeach him!' As humans, we all make mistakes. So you have to forgive those mistakes and move on."
Georgetown and nearby Round Rock are big population centers of Texas's sprawling, largely conservative 21st Congressional District, which chose Republican Robert J. Dole over Clinton by more than a 2-to-1 ratio in 1996 presidential race.
So as forgiving as they are, they also think Clinton should pay a price.
"You can forgive someone for making a mistake, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be consequences," said Willhouse. "It's just like when I was growing up and I did things I shouldn't have. My father still loved me. But he disciplined me. He did it in the right way, and I've never forgotten it. My father taught me that if you do something you shouldn't do, then you take your consequences like a man."
But what consequences? Impeachment? Censure?
"I listened to all the lawyers on TV, all the gibberish, the legal explanations, the rebuttal," said Bob Mann, 53. "I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens."
For now, there are the scouts to worry about, especially the younger ones. More than a few have been asking about Clinton.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company