Clinton Backers Stand by Their Man

The biggest mystery in Washington still is how the president's approval rating stays over 50 percent when, at the same time, the number of Americans who say they don't trust Mr. Clinton remains over 50 percent. You might think that distrust would equate with something less than approval. But it doesn't. And it's a big puzzlement.

The easy answer - and it's one I've used - is that as long as the economy is doing well, the public will give good grades to any president.

But I've come to believe there's something about this particular president that causes so many people to stick with him through thick and thin. They may think he's been a naughty boy at times in his past. Indeed, they may even see him as something of a rogue. But they like his warmth, which he seems to be directing - even when he's speaking on television - toward each one of them.

And besides finding the president personable and likable, these Clinton rooters are impressed by their man's intelligence. One of the first things a Clinton fan will say in his defense is, "Yes, he has problems but he's very smart." And then he or she will add, "And he's a hard worker."

Also, growing numbers of Clinton supporters believe that the Republicans - led by independent counsel Kenneth Starr - are trying to hound the president out of office. They may not believe Clinton is clean as a whistle.

Indeed, even his leading public advocate, former Clinton campaign manager James Carville, concedes that the president is not "pure as the driven snow." But Clintonites are convinced the president hasn't done anything legally wrong and that he is the victim of a long, drawn-out vendetta carried out by the GOP.

"You know when all this is going to end?" Carville asked reporters attending a recent Monitor breakfast. Then, supplying his own answer, he said: "It'll end only on the last day Clinton is in office."

Carville, himself, is kind of a likable Peck's Bad Boy - and seems to enjoy being so perceived. As the breakfast got under way, he - out of the blue - began to tell us what an overactive, mischievous youngster he had been. He said that when he was in parochial school the nuns would seat him close to their desks so they could "thump me with a long stick" if he misbehaved.

It was an interesting tale but totally unrelated to the subject at hand: how the president was (or had been) conducting his personal life. But the story was vintage Carville, who is known for putting on an unpredictable performance. He still likes to show his unwillingness to follow traditional behavior. The reporters around the breakfast table were dressed up a bit for the occasion. Carville was wearing an open-neck shirt, blue jeans, and sneakers.

Carville usually will say something, perhaps voice some charge, that will make "news." This time he intimated (almost alleged, actually) that the Republicans were providing "payola" to push the Paula Jones case along.

Carville's fierce defense of the president is, each day, getting a larger reception. Many voters, who turned away from Clinton when Whitewater and other charges were first leveled against him, have come back to his side as nothing truly serious developed. In fact, even some Republicans who voted for Bush and Dole have wearied of the continual drumbeat of allegations with nothing of substance happening.

At one point I asked Carville, "But what if it turns out that Starr is simply developing his case in a very careful and meticulous way and that one of these days he drops a ton of bricks on Clinton, or both of the Clintons?" Carville gave this question his scornful look. Starr, he said, had "nothing." He said that the independent counsel was simply keeping the issue alive with an endless search.

In going after Starr, was Carville speaking for the president? He said he talked regularly with Clinton (he would not say how often) and that the president had ways of "reining me in" if he wanted to - but that this had not happened.

Carville said the president had ways of reining him in - but that this had not happened.

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