'Betrayal - but Let's Move On'

In heart of the 'Bible belt,' people express dismay about Clinton but want issue to end

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Out on the Oklahoma plains, on a fresh cut field of blue-stem hay, Washington's morality play couldn't seem farther away.

Despite the gravity of the presidential admission that he had an inappropriate relationship, the hardship created by lingering drought and triple-digit temperatures commands the most immediate attention.

But beneath the day-to-day concerns, when Oklahomans are pressed about the spectacle in Washington, they express a Bible belt pragmatism that portends both hope and danger for Mr. Clinton and his presidency.

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There is a lingering sense of betrayal among detractors and stinging disappointment among supporters in the president's admission of an improper relationship and obfuscation of the matter. But perhaps most important, there is almost universal agreement to move beyond the issue.

"I say let it die," says Rick Jones, leaning against his blue pickup, ankle high in cut hay, near the town of Owasso. But in a state with powerhouse Republican delegations in both the House and Senate, Mr. Jones doubts that will happen. "I bet they'll keep butting heads over this," he predicts.

Jones's impatience with the sordid affair mirrors what many Americans are saying. Overnight polls showed that a majority of people are satisfied with Clinton's admission that he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky and want the entire matter dropped.

An early CNN poll, for instance, showed 53 percent of Americans were satisfied with his remarks and his job approval rating remained steady at 62 percent. A CBS/New York Times survey reported 60 percent satisfaction with the statement and an equal number suggesting the investigation should end.

Experts caution, however, that any polling done right after a president makes a televised address usually shows a favorable jump in numbers for the chief executive. A more accurate reading will come over the next couple of weeks.

Still, the president can take solace in the number of people wanting the issue to go away - something the White House is clearly banking on.

Focused on other problems

For many people here in Oklahoma, the home of Oral Roberts University and a conservative brand of Christianity, there are simply more pressing concerns to deal with. Jones, for instance, has been cutting hay at midnight this week to avoid the afternoon swelter. While the president's predicament has been on his mind, it doesn't consume his attention.

Same for Randy and Jill Loftis. The cattle ranchers from Ivanhoe, Texas, have been driving 10-hour round trips this week, hauling hay they buy from Jones at $2.25 a bale. Back in Texas, drought has pushed the price of a bale of alfalfa to more than $7. The couple have filled the long hours on the road in the cab of their red pickup talking about the president's problems.

They believe he has said enough.

"If it affected me at the grocery store, then I'd mind," says Mr. Loftis, suggestion the matter be dropped. "Everybody has skeletons in their closet," adds his wife, Jill.

But away from the hay fields, closer to Tulsa in the outlying suburb of Broken Arrow, the disappointment seems more acute. It is a piece of middle America that helped elect Clinton to office twice - and may be a sign of trouble. One question is what Clinton's supporters, many of whom didn't believe the allegations that he had had a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, will do now.

"I believe we are all made up of dignity and depravity," says Betsy Gwartney, a distraught soccer mom and single mother of five, suggesting she felt betrayed by the president's admission.

"If he's been lying about that, he could be lying about anything," adds Jackie Bekka, watching two of her red-faced sons on the soccer field. "But I don't think it affects his ability as an international leader."

Hollow admission

For Lynn and Gene Swepson, business executives who have spent a lot of time at the pool this summer to keep their seven-year-old away from the graphic details outlined in TV broadcasts, the admission still rings hollow. The president accepted responsibility but didn't apologize.

They accuse the president of being self-indulgent by striking out at independent counsel Kenneth Starr while failing to fully acknowledge the full dimensions of the pain he caused - including to Lewinsky and her family. "What about them?" asks Mr. Swepson.

A Tulsa transplant originally from Little Rock, Ark., Swepson says the character flaws that enabled reckless behavior in the White House represent an opportunity lost for Clinton and the country.

"He had all these great things he could have done as president of the United States. And he blew it," he says.

Moreover, Swepson believes, the president's modified mea culpa represented the one chance Clinton had to level with the American people. To him, the statement was more a tap dance - and an attack on Mr. Starr. "What should Mr. Clinton have said? In a marriage, you don't lie," Swepson says.

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