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Patience, the Prosecutor, and the President

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Groundhog Day. That means that if President Clinton goes outside today and doesn't see his own shadow then Kenneth Starr will be sure to launch an investigation.

That's a JOKE, of course, the kind of joke this reporter continues to hear-- just back from yet another trip to Washington over the weekend. In our nation's capital, there's still a great appetite for more news of Republican Special Prosecutor Ken Starr's investigation into the President's sex life, business dealings, and accusations of possible obstruction of justice.

However, outside Washington, there are indications that rank and file Americans are less eager for details -- or rumors -- of the so-called "scandal". They're getting back to business, and waiting for proof. They want facts.

Underscore for emphasis: So far there have been no formal charges, no open allegations, and almost no solid evidence or testimony. This case -- if indeed it is to be a case -- is very young, much too young for some of the speculation you'll hear flying around Washington and on some networks, doubtless for days and weeks to come.

This reporter possesses great skepticism when it comes to polls, but the polls so far bear out the idea that Americans are not panicking about the scandal in the White House. A CBS News poll shows the President's popularity isn't sinking - in fact, it's getting a slight increase from its already high level. Other polls by other news organizations are telling the same story: the President is getting high approval ratings for the job he's doing -- although in every case there are also serious misgivings about his character, and concerns about some of the charges being made in the current mess.

Such results have a lot of pundits and politicians scratching their heads, trying to figure out what, if anything, it all means. Most folks seem to believe that Americans are more impressed by what's provable: if the economy is good, and the country is at peace, then that's at least some proof the President is doing a pretty good job. If there are charges that the President is guilty of wrongdoing -- then most Americans seem to be waiting for the proof.

So the hype surrounding the "scandal" cools off (at least a little) as Americans adopt patience as a byword. Whether any of those Americans are with the press -- is another question altogether.

Written by Dan Rather, CBS Evening News Anchor.
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