Debate hasn't caught America's eye

November 02, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- A senator's sex-filled diaries were debated all day, and it was all the talk here in the capital. But outside the Beltway, it was a different story.

"It really isn't at the top of the list for most people," said Jennifer Mullen of Temple University in Philadelphia, who searched campus dormitories and the student activity center and turned up not a television tuned into the debate about Sen. Bob Packwood's diaries in Washington.

"People are sick of hearing about corrupt politicians. And they don't feel they have a say in it."

Similar sentiments were heard across America yesterday, from campuses to appliance stores to VFW halls, almost anywhere except Mr. Packwood's home state of Oregon.

And that did not bode well for the respectability of the U.S. Congress, already besmirched by an image of its members' bouncing checks and helping special interests.

"The disillusionment will only deepen toward Washington," said Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, a watchdog group. "This is why America is fed up. This confirms their worst suspicions."

It was apparent to Linda Bubon in Chicago that the Packwood case had not yet had an effect similar to the hearings on Clarence Thomas' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, when Anita Hill's testimony riveted the nation.

Back then, Ms. Bubon's feminist bookstore, called Women and Children First, was humming with opinion. "It was 'Can you believe it?' and 'Oh, my gosh,' and everyone wanted to get in on a conversation," she said.

Yesterday, Ms. Bubon had heard not a word about the current debate.

Les Leringer, a Korean War veteran who was passing the time at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said the television was turned off and that was just fine with him.

"I think it's all nonsense," he said. ". . . I think they should pay attention to more serious things."

But the debate about access to Mr. Packwood's diaries was discussed among seniors at Oregon State University in Corvallis. And it was watched closely by groups supporting the 28 women who have alleged that Mr. Packwood sexually harassed them.

Betty Roberts, a former Oregon Supreme Court justice who is director of the Women's Legal Advocacy Fund, was impressed by what she saw.

"I think the members of the ethics committee are carrying this very well," she said.

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