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Western Press Review: Commentators Assess U.S. Elections

Prague, 5 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators are busy assessing the results of Tuesday's elections in the U.S. Many see them as a victory for Democratic President Bill Clinton and a disappointment for the rival Republican Party, even though the Republicans continue to control both houses of Congress.

NEW YORK TIMES: The election touched on power alignments

The New York Times, generally supportive of the Democrats, says that "this was an election that touched on power alignments between and within the parties, on voter attitudes, on candidates for the new millennium, on campaign finance and, of course, on (presidential) impeachment."

The paper writes in an editorial: "Like all mid-(presidential) term elections, this one occurred under the shadow of its most prominent non-candidate. The paradox of Bill Clinton's personal flaws and political resilience may never be fully explained, but this campaign season documents it anew. A Democratic disaster would have made (Bill and Hillary Clinton) pariahs within their own party. Now they emerge with as much clout as could be summoned for a White House with such a troubled history."

The NYT continues: "The House (of Representatives) results, in particular, suggest that the public has done a sophisticated job of balancing its disapproval of Clinton as a person and its desire for continuity and a Congress that works. By reducing the Republican majority in the House (by five seats), the voters gave Clinton the leverage to shop for a (congressional) censure deal."

NEW YORK TIMES: The election was nationalized by the Impeachment Issue

The same paper's conservative-minded columnist William Safire acknowledges that the Republicans took what he calls "some shellacking this week." Safire sees several lessons emerging from the vote, first and foremost that "not all (U.S.) politics is local."

He writes: "This was an election nationalized by the Impeachment Issue, no matter what exit pollsters report....There is no blinking away the fact that this was a referendum on Clinton's conduct. This year, core voters of both parties as well as swing voters were motivated by the fear or hope of removing the president. The difference in most close races that Democrats won was sympathy for Clinton."

That suggests another lesson for Safire: "The majority of Americans who care enough to vote do not believe that lying under oath about sexual matters --by itself-- justifies removing this president from office. The minority can grumble about how the Clinton example undermines the judicial system, or argue that good times should not justify bad acts, but the majority rules."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The results were clearly a victory for Bill Clinton

The Wall Street Journal Europe, also of a conservative bent, allows "that Mr. Clinton's Democratic Party defied all predictions by narrowing the Republican majority in the House...and holding the Republicans to the present 10-seat majority in the Senate. These results," the paper adds in an editorial, "were clearly a victory for Bill Clinton (and) much diminish the chance that the House will vote impeachment..."

The WSJ continues: "Mr. Clinton and the Democrats benefited from a general satisfaction with the state of the American economy. Unemployment and inflation are low....The country is not at war and whatever threats there are to national security do not seem immediate to most voters."

The paper sums up: "For now, Mr. Clinton and his political party can celebrate. They have survived what could have been a disaster had the American people reacted more violently to the President's behavior."

BOSTON GLOBE: The electorate made little change in the political line-up

In the Boston Globe, columnist David Shribman says that "American voters expressed their general satisfaction with the economy, their leadership, and the division of power (between Republicans and Democrats) in Washington."

He writes further: "An electorate inclined to retain the status quo in Congress apparently also prefers the status quo in the White House. The message from the voters was almost unmistakable....They made little change in the political line-up and, by doing so, they urged the politicians to do the same." In any other year," Shribman adds, "that would mean almost nothing. This year (because of the Lewinsky affair) it means almost everything."

WASHINGTON POST: The Democrats were given a new lease of life

In a news analysis for the Washington Post, David Broder says that the Democrats were "given a (new lease on life) from voters who simultaneously registered their strong disapproval of impeaching...Clinton."

Broder writes: "Republicans saw the building blocks of the Ronald Reagan era (1981-88) --California and the Deep South-- captured by their rivals....The Democrats signaled that they have not lost the capacity to build cross-racial coalitions and to challenge the Republican Party on its home grounds."

He adds: "For the longer term --and especially for Vice President Al Gore's hopes of succeeding Mr. Clinton in 2000-- nothing was more important than the easy victory of lieutenant governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, over...Republican...Sam Lungren, for the governorship....Four of the last five Republican presidential victories were furnished by Californians (who were governors of the state), Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: President Clinton has good reason to celebrate

Across the Atlantic, two British newspapers devote editorials to the U.S. election. The conservative Daily Telegraph writes: "President Clinton has good reason to celebrate. This is the first time since 1934 that the presidential incumbent party has gained House seats in an off-year election."

The paper goes on to say: "What (Clinton) cannot do, however, is assert vindication in the obstruction of justice and perjury scandal that has dominated Washington for the past nine months....Americans are willing to give Bill Clinton the benefit of the doubt, clearly, but they have not made up their collective mind about his conduct in office."

The DT adds: "While there is now a fair chance that Mr. Clinton will suffer nothing more than a symbolic vote of censure, it is too early to conclude that his travails are over."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The U.S. public has made clear it likes to take its politics in moderation

The Financial Times believes that "the Republican Party's surprisingly bad performance makes presidential impeachment unlikely." The paper's editorial says: "Clinton may feel invigorated by the result. But this was less a vote of support for him than a rejection of the idea that he should be impeached."

The FT continues: "The Republicans should...concentrate on finding a new political direction after this disappointment. In the election, moderate Republicans fared far better than arch-conservatives."

And it concludes: "The next presidential campaign has (already) started in earnest. If the Republican leadership allows the religious Right to dominate the debate, the party will condemn itself to another four years outside the White House. The U.S. public has made clear it likes to take its politics in moderation."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The Republicans will now have to find a face-saving maneuver

On the Continent, Martin Winter of Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau calls the U.S. vote "a victory for the forces of reason." In a commentary from Washington, he writes: "Americans have crossed the process of impeaching the U.S. president off the agenda, even before the legal proceedings got under way. They like Bill Clinton because they are doing well under his presidency and now they have given him the freedom of maneuver to complete the remaining two years of his presidency."

Winter goes on: "The Republicans...were given a severe rap on the knuckles in the mid-term elections....The Democrats will now...close ranks behind their president because there are, after the election, more of them. And also because they --hopefully-- are wise enough to interpret the will of the voters correctly."

As for Clinton, the commentary adds, he "has come out of the balloting in a clearly stronger position. The Republicans will now have to find a face-saving way out of the dilemma they have created for themselves."

LIBERATION: The Republican Right has met with massively negative response

In a signed editorial in the Left-of-Center French daily Liberation, Foreign Editor Jacques Amalric says the vote represents the end of what he calls "Starr-mania".

Amalric writes: "(Starr-mania), like a boomerang, has come to strike just those who supported it most: the Republican Right, which had more and more come to seem like what the U.S. calls the "Christian Right," no doubt to avoid speaking of fundamentalism."

Amalric adds: "Hoping to capitalize on the (Lewinsky) affair, the Republican Right sought to transform these elections into a referendum on Clinton's eventual removal from office. Today it has its response: massively negative."

LA REPUBBLICA: The majority of the electorate thought first of its own concrete interests

Italy's La Repubblica says that Clinton was saved by the continuing success of the U.S. economy. The paper writes: "Clinton can sleep more soundly, pardoned by the voters and also by Hillary, who for some time has measured her marriage by the standard of political power rather than conjugal fidelity."

The paper adds: "Like the First Lady, the majority of the electorate thought first of its own concrete interests" when it voted for the continuation of present U.S. economic policies."