Bill as OedipusThe psychohistory of Clinton must deal with his Oedipus complex as the primary determinant of his emotional life and behavior. The Clinton image arouses powerful love and sexual dreams in women and disguised ones in men that have been collected in a book. His sexual attractiveness is often cast in the Elvis model leavened by the power of the Oval Office. The Elvis identity for Clinton pleased his mother who includes a picture of teenage Bill as Elvis in her autobiography. This resonates with women voters and affects men too as they identify with the bad boy of Jailhouse Rock. Here is Saxophone Bill from the high school band whose paramour Gennifer Flowers was a career pop singer like his mother Virginia who often spontaneously joined the vocalist in the Hot Springs clubs she loved. Oedipus is a complex and a myth that also stirs fantasies of hate so the "Clinton Crazies" attack him in their magazines, radio shows and on the Internet as a cocaine using, drug smuggling Satanic murderer according to a recent New York Times article.
What does it mean to describe Clinton as Oedipal? It refers to the role of Oedipus in the family drama of King Laios, the father murdered by the ill-fated son who then marries his mother Oueen Jocasta. The son who is destined to this role is punished by self-inflicted blindness and after wandering in lifelong exile enters a sacred grove from which he goes to a consecrated afterlife. Sophocles' Oedipus Rex is a prototypic Greek legend which Freud read as a universal and unconscious event of human development. The universality of this myth in personality formation is still debated but its power in the life of President Clinton is beyond clinical doubt. Of course the evidence is in his mother's story who describes childhood traumas and intimate details of the President's development, even the location of the parental bedroom in relation to the that of the son.
Clinton's Oedipal story is in the portents, expectations and cues of his mother as Jocasta. Like the ill-fated queen, she is the surrogate for the citizens who wanted the magical economic benefits of the Gods denied them by Bush in 1992 who represents another aspect of the murdered King Laios. Virginia's self-portrait as a workaholic nurse anesthetist, colorfully costumed, vividly made-up, hard drinking, flirtatious, assertive, impulsive and controversial is similar to those in several unauthorized biographies of Clinton.
The final event in which Clinton vanquished his King Laios was a struggle at age 14 when he told his stepfather, Roger Clinton never again to hit his mother. He was now taller and stronger then this alcoholic man who was argumentative and paranoid. Virginia tells us that Bill was already "father, brother and son" in the family where he "took care" of his mother and his younger brother. As an only child until age 10, his powers as "special, sensitive and mature" were amplified.
The unconscious fantasies of a son who possesses the mother after killing the father produces a reservoir of guilt and anxiety in the son especially if this drama is confirmed by family events. Clinton's mother was married to his father, Bill Blythe while he was serving in World War II and then Bill Clinton was born three months after his father's death in an auto accident in 1946. Oedipus killed his traveling father at the crossroads in an encounter fated by the Gods while Bill Blythe's death was from an accidental tire blowout in a speeding car on a lonely highway.
Bill Clinton's father wanted to reunite with Virginia, Bill's mother so they could travel to a new home Bill Blythe had found for them in a suburb of Chicago. Bill heard often of the tragedy of his father's death on a trip from Chicago to Arkansas and he tells us, "I had to live for myself and for him too...that...shaped my childhood - that great memory." Was Bill Blythe's death on the urgent and fateful trip a consequence of Virginia's pregnancy with Bill? Of course that isn't rational but neither is the unconscious mind of the child as he learns of his role in his father's death. As Virginia mourns, she is embarrassed and ashamed because her new baby, Bill Clinton is fatherless. She has a vision of herself as a disgraced unwed mother. She mourns her dead husband but she is also preparing to escape from her mother's control, reenter the dating scene and seek a new husband. This is when Bill's care passes to his grandmother for the first four years of his life.
Clinton's mother influenced his Oedipus complex but what does this mean? In Sophocles' drama, there was no initiative by Jocasta toward her son Oedipus but Virginia's seductive behavior influenced little Bill's unconscious mind and so affected his Oedipus complex. This goes beyond his childhood image of Virginia as a musical, caring and sexy woman.
Virginia was unconsciously seductive toward her son who was her romantic or sexual object, a substitute for her real loves, Bill's dead father and her own father. Her words about her son point to this but more importantly her own unresolved Oedipal experience can be best understood this way. Her mother was "...vindictive, manipulative..." and had "...nightly screaming fits..." of jealousy when she lunged at her father who futility invoked Virginia, "Please, the baby..." Virginia's own Oedipal frustration in attempting to possess her good father and destroy her bad mother was revived by her mother-son relationship and this fulfill Freud's meaning. The overtly seductive parent of Freud's original Oedipus theory was soon succeeded by the parent whose eroticism was unconscious but equally powerful for the child. So, like mother, like son, the Oedipus complex is hard to resolve.
After Bill's Presidential inauguration, Virginia muses in the Queen's Bedroom of the White House, "I wished my daddy could have been there to see his daughter...on the Queen's bed." The overtly seductive parent who is prominent in the early Freud's Oedipus theory was soon succeeded by a parent whose eroticism was unconscious but equally powerful for the child. So, like mother, like son, the Oedipus complex is hard to resolve.
Bill's Primal SceneVirginia's revelation about the family's psychosexual panorama leads to Bill's primal scene. She says that Bill's childhood bedroom was directly across the hall from the one she occupied with her second husband, Roger. The primal scene is a psychoanalytic idea about the effect on the small child who sees parental sex as an attack of an aggressive male on a passive female while the emotion of the coupling and the display of adult sexual organs excite and confuse the child. The mother's lack of a penis is often the focus of a little boy's castration fears. We are told that the parental bedroom was the source of noisy accusations of infidelity and attacks on Virginia by a drunken Roger. so a curious and precocious Bill could hardly have avoided this kind of primal scene. Bill's fearful emotions from his images of the primal scene are buried in his unconscious reemerging later as his inhibition about sexual intimacy in marriage and his frequent casual love affairs and one night stands.
We learn more about the sexual problems of this family when Virginia tells us about her husband's lack of in sexual interest in her. She complains about her husband's inability to impregnate her more then once in 20 years of marriage although she wanted very much to have a second child. Maybe Roger was periodically impotent which is not rare among alcoholic men but Virginia also says that he spent time with other women. Virginia's candor about her frustrated marriage is the kind of family secret that mak
We know a good deal about Bill Clinton's sexuality from his promiscuous reputation as reported by his Arkansas biographers and Gennifer Flowers who wrote a book about their 12 year affair. Maybe as one observer says, there are similarities to his role model, Jack Kennedy who needed sex one or more times a day with a variety of mistresses, lovers, secretaries and prostitutes to avoid headaches and feel healthy. Sexuality is a drive based on biology but its individual expression varies among people so a list of the known promiscuous Presidents in this century would include Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton.
Was Bill in Love With His Stepfather?Little Bill's primary Oedipal struggle from four to six about sexual love for his mother and death wishes toward his stepfather is accompanied by a secondary or negative Oedipal reaction as he identifies with his beloved stepfather against his errant mother. Virginia says she flirted openly with men in the night clubs because her husband preferred to spend the evening gambling in the club's back rooms. At least once, Roger attacked a man in a club because she danced with him. She spent much of her free time with men at the race track. However, she tells us that she was innocent of her husband's constant accusations of infidelity. Virginia is the rival of Roger, the stepfather for Bill's love in a family conflict between the parents. The original positive Oedipus complex is followed by the negative one which helps to neutralize it but both are active in the child's unconscious symbolized by dream, fantasies, imagination and games which substitute other objects of love and hate for the original Oedipal figures.
Little Bill and his stepfather had a close relationship especially when Roger dated Bill's mother and Virginia tells us that this was one of the reasons that she married him. Bill was two and three during their courtship and four when they married. Despite Roger's alcoholism, abusiveness and paranoia, Virginia says that they remained close until his death from cancer when Bill was 21. Bill's negative Oedipus complex was fostered by his emotional response to Roger's noisy accusations of Virginia so their truthfulness is less important then their sexual and emotional content. A contributing factor is Bill's jealousy on hearing that his mother preferred other men not just to husband Roger but also to son Bill.
A strong and persistent reverse Oedipus complex can create homosexual feelings for father surrogates although we don't see this with Bill. He isn't gay or actively bisexual but the negative Oedipal complex provided him with an empathy for homosexuality that led him to offer equality for gays in the military and more help in the AIDS crisis. I am not offering a psychoanalytic theory for the development of homosexuality which is probably biological or constitutional but simply looking at the psychosocial and family issues of normal bisexuality.
Bill's Good and Bad WomenThe role of Hillary Rodham Clinton in Bill's life as his wife and the mother of his child is described in some detail by his mistress, Gennifer Flowers. Again the veracity and narcissism of her memoir need not concern us since her words and those she recalls from Bill during their relationship are part of the emotional climate of Clinton's gubernatorial sexuality. Flowers recalls Bill describing Hillary as Hilla the Hun or Sarge and saying that she preferred women to men but he really "admired" her mind and the things she tried to accomplish. Another author, Garry Wills reviewing Whitewater quotes Clinton as saying, "I was born at sixteen and I'll always feel sixteen. And Hillary was born at the age of forty."
This is the classic psychoanalytic dilemma of the Madonna (not the pop star) and the Whore for a man who is impotent with his wife but potent with a mistress. His wife represents the mother, a tabooed sexual object, while the bad woman is permitted sexually so he has another kind of Oedipal problem. Bill's mother image is split by the power of the Oedipal prohibition into a good mother-wife who becomes forbidden as a sexual object and a witch or bad mother who is allowed because she is degraded by the sexuality denied to the wife.
But there was an earlier Oedipal obstacle to be surmounted. Bill's first solution to his Oedipal dilemma was to escape from the taboo against Mother Virginia's steamy Southern sexuality into Hillary's cooler Yankee persona. In an Oedipal confession, Virginia says she wanted him to choose an Arkansas beauty queen like her rather then Hillary, the hippie intellectual Chicagoan with coke bottle glasses. But after a few years of marriage his libido returns to the Arkansas beauty queens, groupies and Gennifer. Why? The Madonna/Whore dilemma was back with a new cast and now Hillary was the taboo Oedipal good mother. Hillary had blended with Virginia and had gone from Whore to Madonna in the unconscious of Bill Clinton.
Bill's Castration AnxietyA boy's sexual impulses toward his mother are terminated by castration anxiety, the response to threats of genital mutilation like, "If you play with yourself, it will fall off." Castration anxiety is often linked to masturbation guilt. The development of defenses against this anxiety is crucial to the newly forming personality and is influenced by the specific threats and the style of the parents.
Bill Clinton's masturbation guilt emerges when he fires Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders because she suggests teaching about masturbation in school as part of sex education. Despite her distinguished career and service in Clinton's Arkansas and Federal administrations, she was asked to resign because she spoke permissively about masturbation!
Bill Clinton's early castration fears include his learning early in life about the danger of love when his real father Bill Blythe was killed in a car wreck as he was driving from Chicago to Arkansas for a reunion with Virginia who was pregnant with Bill.
Castration anxiety is often experienced as a verbal and a physical attack on bodily integrity. Bill was called "sissy" and his classmates laughed when he was five because he tripped while jumping rope breaking his leg and sending him to the hospital for two weeks. The omission of this episode from Virginia's book suggests that it may have a special emotional weight.
Seven year old Bill was attacked by a "big ram" who had him down in a pasture on the family farm. This was another renewal of castration fears and perhaps anxiety dreams. He was rescued and then fled to his mother's arms. Virginia tells us this happened on a farm to which Roger, the alcoholic stepfather had moved the family. They soon moved back to the city because Roger didn't know anything about farming. She undoubtedly told Bill this too.
Bill's Separation AnxietySeparation anxiety following the loss of a parent or a parent's love is another character forming experience. It is akin to anxiety about castration so it may reinforce Oedipal fears. Age seven was a time of separation anxiety when Bill's mother had to be away from home more because of the demands of her work as an anesthetist. This wasn't Bill Clinton's first episode of separation anxiety as will be explained later but its coincidence at seven with the castration anxiety of the ram's attack helps us understand the consolidation of his ego defenses, another topic we'll spell out in detail soon.
Virginia's absences when Bill was seven led her to find a substitute mother, Mrs. Walters who taught Bill the Golden Rule. Is this just a Southern lady's appreciation for a good nanny or are we also learning that embattled Virginia's rule was that of the Old Testament, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? The mother image is then split again, Mrs. Walter at home, benign and religious and Virginia, aggressive, mobile and in conflict with stepfather Roger. The stepfather's constant accusations of infidelity against Bill's mother may have been another threat to the security of Bill who may have believed that something was wrong with his mother. This was in contrast to the kind housekeeper, Mrs. Walters who was always available and exemplified the local Bible Belt morality in contrast to his racy mother Virginia who smoked, drank and gambled.
Like a good and bad mother, Bill also had a good and a bad father. Bill Blythe was dead and an idealized symbol while Roger, the live stepfather was an abusive alcoholic. The biography by Allen and Portis quotes Bill, "It's a very difficult thing to be raised with a myth...I felt...I should be in a hurry in life because it gave me a real sense of mortality...I thought about it all the time because my father died at 29..."
Despite his later flaws as a husband and father, Roger was a handsome older adventurous businessman who arrived in toddler Bill Clinton's life when Virginia began her romance with him. He was always interested in Bill and helped pay for Bill's visits to New Orleans with his grandmother so Virginia could see him while she was away for a year studying anesthesia. Roger helped in the resolution of Bill's Oedipus complex but one of the results was a lifelong ambivalence about his good father Blythe versus the bad stepfather Roger. There is also ambivalence about the early attractive Roger versus his later negative persona. Ambivalence produces the frequent indecision in Bill as Governor and President and more will be said later about how this ambivalence began at home before Roger was a significant person in Bill's life.
A year after fending off Stepfather Roger's attack on Mother Virginia, Bill now 15 wanted to help his flawed stepfather so he legally changed his name from Blythe to Clinton. Bill's conscious motive was to support his stepfather who was depressed about Bill's mother divorcing him but he also wanted to help his half brother who at age five was starting in school. Bill felt he and younger brother Roger should have the same name legally although Bill had already used the Clinton name during school. Virginia who had remarried her divorced husband Roger after three months of separation was pleased at this gesture which she thought might help. But at an unconscious level 15-year-old Bill is announcing that he is the father of five year old Roger Clinton and the husband of Virginia since his name is now legally Clinton.
The first and crucial separation episode for Bill was when his mother went to New Orleans for a year to study anesthesia leaving him as a one year old with his grandparents. "It almost killed me to be away from Bill," she said and cried after their visits. This separation was necessary to assure Bill's future according to his mother since her earning potential as a nurse was limited and also it became "life saving" by giving her life a focus that helped her shut out her later marital problems.
But maternal grandmother Edith called Mawmaw wanted Bill's mother out of town so she could take over the baby, her only grandchild and she really did come to hold "sway" over Bill. Mawmaw disliked Roger, Virginia's new beau and it was when Bill was four that Virginia's decision to marry Roger led to a crisis. Mawmaw announced she would take Bill's custody away from Virginia even although Virginia's father opposed the plan. After Mawmaw consulted an attorney, the plan was abandoned but Bill Šas the object of an emotional struggle between his grandmother and his mother. His grandmother had taken care of him during his first four years including the year when his mother was in New Orleans for her anesthesia training and then after her return to Arkansas when she worked in local hospitals and often partied out of town on weekends with Roger.
The struggle for Bill was finally resolved when Virginia's twenty year marriage to Roger began but the tension continued. Neither Virginia's parents nor Roger's parents attended the wedding. We are told that Bill's grandmother Mawmaw hated Roger because he was a gambler and alcoholic while his family was critical since he was still married and behind in child support payments when he was courting Virginia. Virginia says that the emotional struggle about four year old Bill between his grandmother and mother was one that he probably remembered years later. The personal differences were also generational. Mawmaw's rigid child rearing style from the 1920's contrasted to the more permissive post-war era when Virginia was growing up.
The second separation took Bill away from his grandmother's home when Virginia married Roger. His compensation for this emotional break was the new house on 13th street where he lived with mother and his new stepfather Roger who bought him a Lionel train. Little Bill was loved by his new father but events were to interfere with this idyll.
Separation anxiety in a child is usually resolved at the time with tension, irritability and insomnia, hardly earth shaking events. But not all separations are innocuous or brief and it is the adult's later behavior that tell us retrospectively what happened in the mind of the child. The unconscious residual of such events is often a lifelong cautiousness or inhibition about sudden change, or just the opposite, risk taking and daring or Bill Clinton's combination of both. Clinton dared to promise gays full integration in the military but the fear of the political consequences of this change frightened him so he withdrew his promise. The risk taking is there but the fear of political loss is overwhelming. His gamble on appointing an innovative law professor, his friend Lani Guinier to the Justice Deparment but his decision is threatened and separation anxiety takes control so he cancels her appointment..
Slick Willie and the GenesWhat about the Slick Willie image? This appellation was popularized by Arkansas journalist Paul Greenberg in the Pine Bluff newspaper but it was already in the local folk culture with a pre-Clinton Slick Willy bar and restaurant near the state capitol.
Bill Clinton's character problems are mentioned by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward in The Agenda and by his other biographers too. The use of deception in promises, manipulation, self indulgence, an addiction to food, casual sex and exercise, the failure to take and hold a position in the face of criticism and a lack of a dominant focus to his politics are offered as the evidence of Clinton's character disorder. Journalists like Edith Efron conclude that Clinton has "no 'self.' " while Harper editor Lewis Lapham says that Clinton has "...the emptiness of a soul that knows itself only by the names of what it seizes or consumes." Of course, such character defects are common in life and politics and among the Presidents, Kennedy, LBJ and Nixon come to mind.
The psychohistorian's who make one shot diagnoses of Clinton are the doctors. Paul Fick calls him an adult child of an alcoholic and Jerome Levin says he's a sex addict. Such a classification into a diagnostic category is a characteristic of pop psychohistory. A psychiatric diagnosis may be of value in coding patients for health insurance reimbursement or for the selection of a medication but it doesn¹t offer a theory of behavior or thought. The rigidity of the nomenclature offers little room for presidential individuality.
Like a child in a candy store, the temptation to sound bites is hard to resist, so here goes. Clinton has a borderline character disorder with sadomasochism as will be explained later in this essay. Bush is cyclothymic with a mood which swings from normal to periods of depression and torpor. Reagan, the president who couldn¹t remember during the Iran Contra investigation developed Alzheimer¹s disease while in office. Carter was an obsessive compulsive who micromanaged his presidency. Ford who was appointed vice president by Nixon and succeeded him was the passive president. Nixon was a paranoid president which is confirmed by his words on the White House tapes. Kennedy was a speed freak, the substance abusing president who injected amphetamines. Lyndon Johnson was both manic as he offered the Great Society and depressed as he selected the targets for bombs in Vietnam and sometimes these symptoms ran together. I stopped this exercise before I ran out of diagnoses but you get the idea.
Clinton's personal characteristics translated into psychiatric jargon are an addiction to exercise, food and casual sex, the lack of a central identity, narcissism, inappropriate anger and a distortion of the superego or conscience. These are the symptoms of a borderline or narcissistic personality. Originally borderline meant a condition between neurosis and schizophrenia but now borderline usually refers to the border between a neurosis with its anxiety, fears or obsessions and a grossly disordered character like a criminal or an alcoholic. Borderline is a diagnosis which began to be used by psychoanalysts and their psychoanalytically trained colleagues in the Fifties to replace the older hospital labels: asocial or sociopathic personality, constitutional psychopathic inferiority and character or personality disorder. These terms in the frequently changing nomenclature of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) are part of the debate. It's confusing and psychiatrist Fritz Redlich says that anyone using the term borderline needs to define it so we know what it means. The definition of narcissistic personality which appears later in my section on Narcissism deliberately overlaps with the definition of borderline despite the attempts of some doctors and the APA to distinguish them.
Borderline and narcissistic diagnoses don't tell us too much about Bill but they do point to underlying genetic and biochemical factors in addition to the psychodynamic and family issues. (Yes, I know that Thomas Szasz, the psychoanalyst who has written on the myth of mental illness would be outraged at a psychiatric diagnosis being applied to Bill or anyone else.)
Behavioral genetics is a new field described by Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland with preliminary results suggesting genetic influences on risk taking or novelty seeking behavior. Virginia tells Roger was attractive for her when they met in Hope because he seemed "dangerous," a gambler, a drinker, and an older divorced man from glamorous Hot Springs with its nightclubs, gambling and gangsters. This tendency in his mother and Father Bill Blythe's frequent liaisons and marriages suggest a genetic factor in Bill's addiction to risky activities such as casual sex.
Novelty seeking behavior is accompanied by frequent casual sex and a preference for the less common varieties of intercourse like oral sex. The behavioral geneticists believe that the frequency and kind of sexual activity as well as a preference for a variety of partners is the role of a gene which also determines either high or low risk behavior. Genes are not destiny even for behavioral geneticists who accept other influence in personality including biological, developmental, environmental and psychosocial events. A footnote is that during the fifties, the Kinsey report had already said that it was likely that there was a genetic influence on the number of orgasms in males whose weekly median was one or two but who varied from none to 29 a week .
Bill Clinton's borderline personality is related to genetic inheritance and here we have some data from his mother's book. She was a steady drinker and Bill's maternal grandmother, Mawmaw became addicted to morphine after she had a stroke so that she had to enter a state hospital to detox. Bill's maternal grandfather who was a bootlegger during Prohibition "drank too much" in the words of one of Bill's Arkansas biographers. He died of bleeding esophageal varices (enlarged veins) which are caused by liver disease, often the result of alcoholism. Bill's father, a traveling salesman had personal problems about responsibility and identity that led him to conceal his three previous marriages and two children from Bill's mother. This family pattern continued with Bill's half brother, Roger becoming addicted to cocaine and serving prison time for drug sales.
Genetic influences in the family patterns of alcoholism are well documented and may be similar to those in the families affected by drug abuse. These genetic profiles are not necessarily the same as the ones thought to be present in narcissistic and borderline personalities but they may reinforce each other in their effects on behavior. A heredity predisposing to substance dependence and social dysfunction may be expressed in a variety of ways including Bill Clinton's narcissistic and borderline traits.
Clinton's powerful intelligence, Elvis physicality and overall energy derive to a considerable extent from his genetic heritage. Bill was reading at three and he has a photographic memory, both markers for intelligence which psychologists agree is strongly influenced by heredity. Bill's high school band director, Virgil Spurlin is quoted by Allen and Portis on Bill's intelligence and his musical ability, "I haven't seen anything quite like him in my teaching experience." Musical ability is another kind of intelligence which also has hereditary influences.
Developmental influences on Bill's brain play a role in his clumsiness which was noted by during childhood and adolescence and later during college. Clumsiness is recognized as a problem in child development and is the topic of a book by Daniel Arnheim, The Clumsy Child which says, "Physical awkwardness can...be caused by...stress. It is often difficult to ascertain whether or not the clumsiness stems from some neurological dysfunction or whether it is a reflection of emotion and self-concept."
Bill was so clumsy as a child that he couldn't catch a ball and he was thought too awkward for piano lessons. During college ROTC, he couldn't learn to march. At Oxford, he often tackled the wrong players in recreational rugby games. Nonetheless, he played the saxophone with distinction as a teen in the band and became a golfer. Bill's clumsiness diminished and disappeared as an adult suggesting that stress and a self esteem problem were the primary factors in his childhood clumsiness rather then a neurological condition. Bill certainly was stressed as a child in a dysfunctional home and he had low self esteem as described in the section on Bill's Castration Anxiety and Masturbation Guilt.
An observation about Bill's energy level is that he seems to need only four hours of sleep a night like his father William Jefferson Blythe so maybe here a poorly understood genetic factor is operating. Bill's mental and physical constitution are from his unique DNA and from the prenatal and postnatal influences on his developing brain. His heredity affects his behavior both directly and through its influence on his psychology. [section update July 31, 1999]
Bill's Oral and Anal DevelopmentThe information about Bill's infancy is less complete then that for his childhood but what we learn is consistent with his adult character. His grandmother's feeding compulsion is mentioned by his mother, "Bill jokes that he can attribute his weight problem to the fact that he'd still be sitting in his high chair on Hervey Street if he hadn't cleaned his plate." Bill's addiction to junk food is well known but by 1995, he is in detox eating soy burgers under the direction of a new White House physician, cardiologist Dean Ornish who emphasizes weight control and a low fat, vegetarian diet.
The formation of character begins during the first year of life with an oral stage of development as overindulgence or deprivation. Food, first as milk from the breast or bottle is the symbol for trust so Bill's later self confidence and communicative charisma begins with his mother and grandmother who compete with each other to fill his needs. It is Bill's need to help or to give to people which Erik Erikson, the Freudian developmental psychologist call oral optimism, a hopefulness or faith that is the opposite of emptiness and taking. oral pessimism. Freud explains, "People who know they are preferred or favored by their mother give evidence in their lives of a peculiar self-reliance and an unshakable optimism which often seem like heroic attributes and bring actual success to their possessors."
Bill Clinton is orally fixated, an optimist whose emotional faith is palpable along with compulsive eating, a near-addictive dependence on jogging and a repetitive need for new sexual partners. Was the powerful control by Bill's grandmother and mother experienced as a deprivation of autonomy? Probably, especially as the oral stage overlaps with the next phase, anality.
During the anal phase in the second year, bowel and bladder mastery are the goals of parental training and the toddler's reaction influences future habits of work. Virginia calls his grandmother's schedule of Bill's bowel training "unrelenting" and says the same about his eating, napping, playing and burping routines. Using derision more then irony, Virginia compares the grandmother to God.
Bill's strict toilet training resulted in orderliness and even compulsivity about study and work. His mother says, "He kept himself incredibly busy during his high school career." The pattern continued as a college student and later as Governor and President. The parental demand for control over the two year old's bodily functions and mobility was strong and was expressed later on by Bill's adolescent conformity and his adult obsessiveness. This may have influenced his choice of the law as a career and then politics, both professions that are ultimately responsible for social control.
Clinton's chronic lateness, mentioned by several of his biographers is often a sign of rebellion against strict toilet training. Virginia explains, "After being bound to my mother's strict regimen for so long, I don't doubt the man sometimes feels a need to dawdle." Ambivalence is another aspect of conflicted toilet training that often emerges in adult life as indecision. The infant first controls the pleasure of expulsion of the feces and then the pleasure of the retention of feces. Holding on and letting go become part of a power struggle between child and mother so the child's ego builds a defense or coping mechanism involving compromise or ambivalence, a continuing pattern of indecision. The approaching Oedipal developments about the good versus the bad father and the good versus the bad mother mentioned earlier reinforce this pattern of holding on and letting go, retention versus expulsion.
Ambivalence taking the form of indecision, reversal of policies and uncertainty mark Bill Clinton's Presidency according to Bob Woodward in The Agenda, the history of economic policy during his first two years. "The worst thing about him is that he never makes a decision," Stephanopoulis says during a crucial deficit planning session. Another associate, Paul Begala says that the most perplexing question about Clinton is his "...two sides... a Southern, populist, religious...connected to the average hard working middle class and a Northern, elitist, Yale Law School side..."
Ambivalence or indecisiveness was part of
the Clinton trademark when he
governed Arkansas. He waited until the last
minute to decide to veto a tax
bill affecting education so he had to slide
it under the locked door of the
House clerk's office and then he had to retrieve
it later that night with a
coat hanger when he changed his mind again
after a phone call to a college
president according to John Brummett, a Clinton
biographer in Highwire.
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From Bill Clinton Meets The Shrinks, by Paul Lowinger
Copyright 1998, 1999 by Paul Lowinger