Bill Clinton Meets The Shrinks

    "Today's search for "character" is a lazy man's quickie therapy diagnosis of politicians based on third-hand potty training reports--and no way to come to terms with the crumbling of our political institutions... Every public event becomes the echo of a perverse upbringing..." by Susan Faludi,"The Malling of America," The Nation, May 27, 1996

President Bill Clinton recalled his separation from his mother when he was four years old by writing last year, "I remember, as a small child, watching my mother on a railway platform ... sobbing and waving goodbye to me...she sank to her knees..." He stayed at home in Hope, Arkansas with his grandparents while his mother was in New Orleans for over a year training to become a nurse-anesthetist.

What does Bill's separation from his mother which is also described in her autobiography have to do with his Presidency? Do the vicissitudes of his early years explain his hesitancy, indecision and passivity in the face of opposition, desire to please, deceptiveness, sexual profligacy, food and exercise dependence, cowardice, fluidity in reinventing himself as well as his religious beliefs, intellectuality, charisma, ambition, perfectionism, need to help, misplaced anger, lateness, energy, courage and achievements. These paradoxes are only the tip of the psychological iceberg, the "personal psychodrama" which baffles even investigative journalist Bob Woodward in his Clinton expose, The Agenda.

Who wants a psychological study of President William Jefferson Clinton? His partisans and those who hate him want to understand him so they can help him or hurt him and even apolitical citizens want to admire or pity him, maybe both. The answer includes the hoards of scholars, psychohistorians, wanabees and their rivals and lovers who want to use personality to find answers about the world past and present. They write about the minds of Alexanderthe Great, Queen Victoria, Lawrence of Arabia, Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Hitler and Picasso. Studies of the individual mind express a preference for a mental view of the world over a social one and so they are a challenge to the usual way of looking at events. The goal is to produce a psychological script and see how this effects the development of the nation or the world. The psychobiography uses the person's development to explain both personal behavior and social events despite some critics like Susan Faludi who look to the culture to explain political changes. The emotional meaning of experience is translated according to the psychology of Freud, Jung, Erikson and the other schools of thought.

I'll emerge from the closet of impartiality and list my biases. I admire Clinton but I feel his personality is ill equipped to cope with the mean spirited world of the late 20th century. He shares this limitation with other world leaders and recent American presidents. The psychohistorical art offers a portrait but lacks the precision of the historian who records events and trends or the authority of the therapist who deals with a face to face patient. Still the canons of history and psychology are used insofar as they further the task and otherwise they are set aside. Psychobabble is an almost unavoidable hazard in writing psychohistory but I'll try to translate it. Much psychological analysis of the heroes and villains of history leads to the mind of the writer so this is an effort to avoid such a pitfall and a warning to the reader. The interchange of the terms, psychohistory, psychology and psychoanalysis is not accidental since all these overlapping disciplines contribute to my study and are complementary here even though elsewhere they may engage in turf wars.

The information about William Jefferson Clinton whom I usually refer to as Bill or Clinton comes from a variety of sources with varying authenticity. The accuracy of the personal details in the books by his mother, brother, journalist-biographers, muckrakers and former lovers is less important to a psychohistorian than the events and emotional climate of Clinton's life. These divergent sources including his own words present an affective unity even when their facts and viewpoints diverge. Leading With My Heart, the book by his mother, Virginia Kelley is a unique opportunity for a psychohistorian who almost never has a mother's story of the development of a national leader to match with a career.

    "Our mother's spirits stay with us always." 'A powerful memory of constant love' by Bill Clinton, syndicated column in the San Francisco Examiner, May 10, 1996

    "In writing about Clinton, or reading about him or watching him on television, it is useful to recall what is known from modern psychology: Character is often the organization of inner conflicts rather then their resolution. In Clinton, the inner conflicts - both the personal psychodrama and the policy debates - rage on." The Agenda by Bob Woodward, Simon and Schuster, 1994

    "...I spotted a dark haired young man, about fifteen years old...I stared at him...he was Bill Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate! I ran over to him and exclaimed, 'You're going to be President!' He smiled calmly at me and said, 'I know.'...He seemed so sweet, so innocent. I realized suddenly that I was in love with him - something decidedly strange because in my dream I was my twenty-four-year old self and Clinton was a fifteen-year-old boy. However the eight-year age difference didn't stop him from saying, 'Will you marry me?' " Dreams of Bill Edited by Julia Anderson-Miller and Bruce Joshua Miller, Citadel Press, 1994

    "...The Oedipus complex is not normal in the way the nose is normal. Rather it is like the thymus gland - i.e. it is normal at a certain period but abnormal if it persists unchanged beyond that period. Everybody has it between four and six; later in normal people it seems to vanish...The adult neurotic has retained his Oedipus complex. He knows nothing about it, but nevertheless we can show it to be operative, and this is what we mean when we say it is 'unconscious.' " The Collected Papers of Otto Fenichel, W.W. Norton, 1953

    "Character is destiny." On the Universe, Heraclitus

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An excerpt from Bill Clinton Meets The Shrinks, by Paul Lowinger
Copyright 1998 by Paul Lowinger