Starr rating

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 September, 1998, 12:00am

For months, the White House had been dreading independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report on the Monica Lewinsky affair. Even late last week, they were still trying to delay publication, fearing the detailed account of US President Bill Clinton's lies and sexual antics would finally turn public opinion against him and so remove the main political obstacle to his impeachment.

Now it seems such worries might have been mistaken. Far from making him unpopular with the public, some post-publication polls have shown a slight increase in Mr Clinton's ratings. To be sure, the picture is mixed. Other polls suggest a modest decline in his popularity. Most show the public no longer trusts him to tell the truth and there is strong support for some form of formal censure.

On one issue, there is no doubt: the American people remain as firmly opposed as ever to his impeachment. That does not justify Mr Clinton's desperate attempts to cling to office. The credibility of the supposed leader of the free world has been shattered by these revelations of his deceitful conduct and the US will never regain the respect befitting its status as a superpower without a change of president.

But it does show Mr Starr may have gone too far in making allegations that he cannot stand up and in publishing an unnecessarily graphic account of the more sordid aspects of Mr Clinton's sexual antics.

The consensus of legal opinion is that some of the allegedly impeachable offences, such as a failure to co-operate fully with Mr Starr's inquiry, are weak if not ridiculous. And public opinion is firmly convinced there was no need to include so much detail in the report that it had to be treated almost like a pornographic publication.

That does not mean Mr Clinton is off the hook. Those to whom he told lies are unlikely quickly to forgive him. Further revelations of other misconduct remain a distinct possibility. And many Republicans remain intent on starting impeachment proceedings: although their enthusiasm for this may yet fade when these opinion poll results start to sink in.

But it does mean that 'Lucky Bill' will live to fight another day - even though he does not deserve to do so.