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Western Press Review: Clinton Travails Draw European Yawns

By Don Hill and Joel Blocker

Prague, 9 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The renewed travails of U.S. President Bill Clinton attract more attention from U.S. commentators today, and more yawns in the European press.

LIBERATION: The Clinton impeachment proceedings have so far provoked only yawns and shoulder-shrugging

In a news analysis for the French daily Liberation, Patrick Sabatier says that the real battle in the impeachment hearings is over the votes of some 20 Republican moderates who, he believes, will determine the Democratic president's fate. He writes: "There are a total of 228 Republicans in the House. That's not enough to carry the day if 20 of them refuse to back impeachment and instead support the Democrats' proposal to punish the president with a largely symbolic motion of censure."

Writing from Washington, Sabatier adds: "The battle promises to be tight. But despite continuous reminders from the media of (what is called) 'the solemnity of this historic and dramatic moment,' the Clinton impeachment proceedings have so far provoked only yawns and shoulder-shrugging -- apart from Capitol Hill, of course."

DIE WELT: Monicagate is not Watergate

Many European commentators -- including those who closely watch the United States -- have virtually closed the subject. Writing in a commentary from Washington in the German newspaper Die Welt, Manfred Rowold says that U.S. readers have grown weary of the topic also. He writes: "In historical perspective, this week should be a (U.S.) national drama, in that only two previous presidents -- Andrew Johnson in 1868, and then Nixon more than a century later -- have been directly threatened with impeachment. Yet Americans in general, and some of the media, appear finally to have tired of the entire affair after months when they could not get enough of the sensational, salacious details."

He says: "Americans are busy now with their Christmas shopping, and most have dismissed the impeachment spectacle in Washington as a partisan effort to get a president who, the polls also show, continues to enjoy a high approval rating."

Of current hearings before a Congressional committee dominated by opposition Republicans, Rowold comments: "Monicagate is not Watergate. That, in short form, is the strategy being used by Bill Clinton's lawyers as they continued what were expected to be two days of hearings before the House Judiciary Committee devoted to the president's defense."

TIMES: The case for impeaching the president remains weak

A commentary in The Times, London, says the tenacity -- and new energy -- of the Republican impeachment drive are astonishing. Columnist Bronwen Maddox writes: "Suddenly, we're back to impeachment. To national disbelief, to the astonishment of even Washington insiders, the hearings into whether President Clinton should be impeached over his affair with Monica Lewinsky have taken on new gravity in the past week."

The commentator writes: "The case for impeaching the president remains, as it always has been, weak. Ironically, the new impetus in the impeachment hearings has sprung from another weakness -- the vacuum in politics, caused by the public's lack of strong feelings about the president's future, and the lack of leadership in the Republican Party."

INDEPENDENT: President Bill Clinton's chances of escaping a trial by Senate increased sharply yesterday

Mary Dejevsky writes from Washington in a news analysis in The Independent, London, that President Clinton's defenders seem to have settled on a tactic that will end the affair short of impeachment. The Independent's correspondent writes: "President Bill Clinton's chances of escaping a trial by Senate, the last stage of the impeachment process, increased sharply yesterday after the White House changed its tactics and sent a crack team of lawyers and constitutional experts to Capitol Hill to tackle head-on the charges against him."

NEW YORK TIMES: We feel our loyalties are being stretched to the breaking point

In the U.S. press, one Republican congressman, former business executive Amo Houghton, a supporter of President Clinton's opponent in the last presidential elections, writes that he won't join his party's leaders to support impeachment. In a commentary published by The New York Times, Houghton says: "I am a bit old for this sort of thing, but if I were to be asked for a Christmas list this year, my top wish would be that the Monica Lewinsky affair could be erased from the 1998 calendar." He says: "No one is comfortable here in Washington these days. We feel sullied and sidetracked, our loyalties stretched to the breaking point."

"The main issue," Houghton writes, "is how to heal, rather than further divide, the nation."

The New York member of the House of Representatives goes on: "God willing, I will be (present when the House votes next week on impeachment, and) I intend to vote against impeachment."

Houghton closes his commentary this way: "Oh, by the way, it is almost Christmas time. Anyone for a touch of forgiveness?"

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Clinton must be rebuked severely

A former special prosecutor for Watergate, Henry Ruth, now retired, condemns Clinton in a commentary published by The Wall Street Journal Europe under the headline: "Clinton Has Corrupted His Party's Soul."

Ruth, a Democrat, avoids stating what punishment Clinton should receive, but argues uncompromisingly that it shouldn't be mild. He concludes: "As human beings, we all have moral failings. But presidents should help us strive to meet impossible ideals and prepare us for sacrifice, when peace and prosperity do not abound." He quotes another politician as saying that Clinton lied under oath and must be rebuked severely. Ruth says: "I agree. And so should you."

NEW YORK TIMES: Nothing happened that would preclude a settlement

The New York Times laments editorially that no leader has emerged in the Congress to show exactly how to rebuke Clinton severely while avoiding impeachment.

The Times says, "Not much progress was made yesterday toward such a settlement. Yet the Judiciary debate was dignified and productive, and although both sides remain in fixed positions, nothing happened that would preclude a settlement if, against all present indications, a leader should step forward."