After speech, the president had his doubters
Haya El Nasser
Maybe it's because it's the same president, because the nation is feeling good,
because the speech was so conciliatory.
Whatever the reasons, President Clinton's 22-minute inaugural address Monday
seemed to stir little interest and even less emotion among those who bothered to
But whatever grade it received, the speech evoked plenty of reaction from
Americans across the country.
Coverage of the inauguration blared from the TV set above as Doug Bair ate his
lunch at a neighborhood bar in the suburb of Arlington Heights.
``It's a lot of pomp and circumstance,'' said Bair, 43, a pizza distributor. ``It's like
mashed potatoes. It's a feel-good food.''
But there wasn't much in Clinton's speech that made Tom Dietrich, 67, a retired
engineer, feel good. ``He's a phony,'' said Dietrich, who voted Republican and
thinks Clinton will be too busy fending off scandals such as Whitewater and
Paula Jones' sexual harassment charges to do much good for the country.
In a Manhattan pub, two law school students, both Clinton voters, watched the
speech at lunch, then got into a friendly debate.
Mike Neil, 26, noted the absence of ``any great one-liners, nothing like (John)
Kennedy's `Ask not what you can do for your country.' In three days, who's
going to remember it?''
But Hansen Alexander, 43, who worked in Clinton's 1992 campaign, thought the
speech shouldn't be judged by what kind of emotions it aroused.
``It was purposely low-key,'' a sign that Clinton is more confident than four years
ago, he said. ``He's a conciliator, a negotiator, a bottom-line kind of guy.''
Free-lance graphic designer Betsy Goldman, 31, watched while folding her wash
at a Manhattan laundromat. ``It sounded good, even if it was kind of vague. . . .
He never said how we're going to accomplish all of those great things.''
A Clinton voter who pays more than $300 a month for health insurance, she said
she was disappointed that ``I heard the words `health care' once. And he didn't
really say anything about it. Does he think we forgot about that?''
Katherine Simpson, 52, a market researcher in Seattle who watched at home,
said Clinton offered hope of a brighter future but few ways to achieve it.
``I wanted more vision, more of what he really wants to do. He told us `we are
going' but not how we're going to get there,'' Simpson said.
The president's plea to overcome the great divide of race, ``America's constant
curse,'' resonated with some.
``I was glad to hear him emphasize the problem of discrimination,'' said Jarvis
Ellis, 53, an exercise physiologist who listened on his car radio in Atlanta. ``I
think the United States scores about C or C-minus on racial tolerance.''
Writer Paul Boorstin, 52, son of noted historian Daniel Boorstin, watched at
home with his wife and 12-year-old son.
``I liked it a lot. I thought he was reaching toward realizing his vision of what
he'd like to do,'' he said. But ``the `bridge to the 21st century' has been
overplayed. He could come up with something new rather than a campaign
Actor Mark Batemen, 27, was half asleep but he heard bits and pieces of the
speech on the radio. ``I just thought, `Didn't I hear this four years ago?' ''
Outside of a Starbucks cafe in the suburb of Framingham, Mass., teacher
Michael Connolly took a less cynical view.
``There's so much negativism in politics these days, we should welcome a chance
to hear a positive message, the kind of message you get in an inauguration
speech,'' said Connolly.
``He touched on some important themes. Certainly, trying to overcome racial
barriers is important.''
Clinton got a thumbs-up from Jacob McClendon, 17, a Cedar Hill High School
junior who was skateboarding on a downtown street.
``He was talking about how they needed to get the youth of America more
involved. That's true. He sounded all right,'' said McClendon, who heard the
speech earlier in the day.
In the nation's capital, some political experts' analysis of Clinton's speech
sounded eerily similar to the average citizen's spin. ``A speech that's easy to
forget,'' said Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. ``It didn't
have a special ring or elegance that one hopes for.''
But Hess points out that ``you can count the really good (inaugural speeches) on
the fingers of one hand.''
Allan Lichtman, professor of history at American University, saw Clinton's
address in person. ``Not his best performance. He touched all the bases . . . but it
lacked the magic, the inspiration, the passion,'' he said. For those who didn't hear
the speech: ``I don't think they missed a great deal.''
Contributing: Carol Marie Cropper in Dallas; Kevin Davis in Chicago; Deeann
Glamser in Seattle; John Larrabee in Boston; Jonathan Lovitt in Los Angeles;
Bob Minzesheimer in New York; and Tom Watson in Atlanta
PHOTO,b/w,Porter Binks, USA TODAY ; PHOTO,b/w,Steve Mawyer, USA