Bill and Hillary in Group Therapy

Interpersonal psychoanalysis is the work of Harry Stack Sullivan, the American psychoanalyst who led Freudians to view the mind as an appendage of its relationships with people.  Freud's paraphernalia of id, ego, superego and psychosexual stages remains but Sullivan explains that the mind of the infant grows because of its relationship to significant people and to their mental representations. These life long influences which form the mind are called dynamisms. An interpreter of Sullivan says, "We are our experiences."  Sullivanian psychoanalysis looks at the interpersonal as a significant measure of mental health and so has a special interest in family and community systems.

Bill and Hillary must be examined by this interpersonal yardstick. Our resources include the political books about Bill by  friends who knew him for many years like Robert Reich and Dick Morris. They were well acquainted with Hillary too. It was Hillary who often called Morris to help Bill with election campaigns.  Reich knew Hillary before he met Bill in 1968 on the boat going to England for their Rhodes scholarships at Oxford.   While these books are positive about the Clintons, they also offer useful critiques.

Reich who served as Secretary of Labor during Bill's first term left in 1996 to resume teaching,  spend more time with his family and recover from the  burnout of being  Locked in the Cabinet, the title of his book. He says Clinton wanted him to stay for his second term.   He is four feet  ten inches, an attorney, a professor of public policy  and an activist for workers' rights. He was on the left in the Clinton inner circle along with Hillary and Harold Ickes during the internecine warfare  with Clinton's right of center cabal, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, the Federal Reserve's  Alan Greenspan and Dick Morris.

Morris sometimes called a spin doctor was a campaign consultant who helped Bill with polling voters and formulating campaigns and issues beginning in 1980 when Bill lost the Arkansas governorship after serving his first term. Morris who continued to work for Clinton in Arkansas and Washington resigned as a consultant during the 1996 Democratic convention when his relationship with a prostitute became public.

Another kind of book is also helpful, the kiss-and tell. Gennifer Flowers tells the story of her twelve year affair with Bill which ended in 1992 while Dolly Kyle Browning wrote a novel "loosely based on a true story" about their thirty year relationship from 1962 to 1992. The affair with pop singer Flowers was denied by Bill and Hillary during the 1992 campaign but in 1998 Bill was reported to have acknowledged it during his deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Attorney Dolly Browning's love affair first received public attention when she was also deposed in the Jones case. The details of these books cannot be verified but they are from Bill's widely known Kennedy-pattern womanizing. Jack Palladino,  a private detective tells The New Yorker that he "was hired by Clinton's 1992 campaign to check out the credibility of Gennifer Flowers and that of twenty-six or so other women" who could say they slept with Bill Clinton.

What can we learn from these four tales of Hillary and Bill? Of course, the authors' creditability is the first question in the mind of the reader. These books like all books are self serving, milestones for these four career minded authors, Bill and Hillary's peers. Their relationship to Bill Clinton gives them a unique audience so their words are shaped carefully. But in a real sense the authors are all frustrated by the Clinton Presidency. The two women each say that Clinton's election meant they lost their connections to Bill as a lover. Morris left the White House in disgrace although he hopes to come back while Reich failed to achieve many of his goals for social change and so he laments his lost main chance. The books are each protestations of sincerity, passionate statements of the author's achievements,  the ties to Bill and their  future hopes. Each presents the mind of Bill and Hillary with a perspective that we can't get in any other way. The men, Morris and Reich are FOB and FOH while the women, Flowers and Browning are FOB but not FOH although they certainly don't ignore Hillary.

During his twenty  year relationship with Bill, Dick Morris works to increase Bill's popularity and electability by taking polls about his campaigns and policies in Arkansas and then  nationally as he runs for president in 92 and 96. Morris' idea of a continuous campaign requires constant polling for each policy decision, speech, legislative session and election. Bill is constantly concerned with his image among voters and looks to Morris for  answers. He wants approval about everything from policy issues to where he should take his vacation and whether a swimming pool should be built in the governor's mansion.

Polling wasn't developed by Morris and Bill Clinton isn't the first candidate to consult polls. Nor is Clinton the only Governor or President to feel insecure and need affirmation. But the overriding importance of Governor Clinton's greeting, "How am I doing?" is its origin with his childhood self image as a fat, clumsy sissy who is jeered by his classmates in kindergarten when he is tripped while jumping rope breaking his leg.

Clinton was five when his stepfather Roger fired a gun during an alcohol-fueled argument with his mother. Bill recalls, "That bullet...could have killed me." In the same interview by Nancy Collins, he describes how he was a "loner" in childhood because of a dysfunctional home.  By fourth grade, Bill is remembered by a friend as the smartest kid in class and "running the school" but another classmate says Bill felt "fat and rejected." These selves  coexist: the glass that is half full is also the glass that is half empty.

Morris' continuous polling represents Bill's unconscious need to enter into a popularity community from which he felt excluded. Another impetus for the questioning was to get the answers that he lacked about the earlier family turmoil: Virginia vs. grandmother Mawmaw when Bill was a toddler, Virginia vs. stepfather Roger during Bill's youth, Virginia the racy iconoclast vs. the local  bluenoses and  Virginia vs. Bill when he decided to marry Hillary. Bill's politics of approval leads him away  from the politics of leadership as practiced by some presidential candidates like Pat Buchanan on the Republican Right and Paul Wellstone and Jesse Jackson on the Democratic Left.

Clinton uses Morris to edit speeches and develop policies in accordance with polls but he also fights against control  by Morris. I picture Bill struggling to maintain his independence against this powerful genie called up by a Faustian bargain. It is as though Bill's opportunism is unleashed by Morris with unforeseen consequences that Bill's ego can't control. When Bill feels anxious, he calls for Morris who arrives on the scene before or after electoral crises; at other times only Hillary is strong enough to call Morris to the rescue as she did in Arkansas in 1980 and in Washington in 1994. Sometimes Morris' consultations are hidden from the public and at other times even Clinton's own advisors don't know about Morris' role. Clinton's guilt about his loss of self confidence leading him to call on Morris for help is like shame about masturbation.

The  president's shame is the focus of an appropriately named movie,  Wag the Dog in which a Morris character is an anti-hero who is concealed in a White House basement.  The embarrassed president is almost entirely absent from the film. This is a black comedy  about a clandestine and anonymous consultant who creates a pretend-war on Albania as a pageant to seize the headlines after the President makes a newsworthy pass at a Firefly girl. So life imitates art as the threat to bomb Bagdad took the headlines away from the Monica Lewinsky scandal for a while. In the contest for control between Bill and Dick, Bill is easily angered and in 1990 he is reported as hitting Dick.  Clinton apologizes immediately although both deny the story. Dick leaves him but not for long. This  story highlights Clinton's rage and his obsessiveness about voter and media approval. His narcissism emerge as he asks Morris where he will rank among America's presidents. Morris is a kind of a gratification to Bill's wounded narcissism as Morris' own injured narcissism is salved by being the Presidential advisor.

Bill's Games

The feuds and confusion within the Clinton Presidency are discussed by both Reich and Morris. This turmoil of style and substance mirrors Bill's own internal conflicts of left versus right, passivity vs. activity,  caution vs. risk,  suspicion vs. certainty and perfection vs. compromise.  This dissonance within Bill's official family is like Uproar, a Game described by transactional analyst Eric Berne where the players enact ritualized roles that meet emotional needs rather then find solutions. Uproar is a family game played between a father and a daughter and is watched by a hovering mother so perhaps the Clinton White House staff game should be named Confusion. The games identified by Transactional Analysis are hidden unconscious maneuvers with a Payoff, the predetermined repetitive dramatic outcome.  This is different from straightforward conscious rituals, procedures and pastimes.

Games originate in childhood and are substitutes for failed attempts at intimacy but the key to their understanding is the Payoff. Every White House staff (and other staffs too) plays Confusion but the question is, what's Bill's role? The Payoff is that he ends a problem and is Hero. There are similarities to the Game played in Bill's childhood with the alcoholic angry stepfather, the defensive mother and the innocent child. Now Bill is an instigator with a defensive staff and a public of innocents.

Bill's Lovers Look at Him

Bill's two lovers, Dolly and Gennifer chronicle long, intermittent and satisfying love affairs. Dolly's story begins when she is eleven and meets thirteen year old Bill at a golf course. She is smitten for the next thirty years which end in 1992 as Bill becomes a candidate for President. During their affair Bill is ambivalent and distant at times despite his sexiness and ardor in bed. Her story describes the inhibitions to be expected in a man with significant castration and separation fears. They begin with Bill's refusal to make love to Dolly the night of the Senior Prom because of his feeling of sexual inadequacy and go on to his failure to give her the attention and time that she deserved. Then she excuses him by  saying that he was "afraid to let me touch..." and this is because he was "pure." She repeats this in a higher octave when she says to him, "...you can't or won't receive what I have to give." There is a kind of echo from Gennifer Flowers, a less critical mistress who speaks of Bill as a wildly successful lover but not especially well endowed.

Is this a case of Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars? Of course and that is a reason the women offer a unique and important  perspective about Bill's mind. Wouldn't stories by Lyndon Johnson's or FDR's mistresses offer unique insights into these presidents? Yes, but it's worth a reminder that although not everything in a leader's life is politically significant, all the experiences are important for biography and especially for psychobiography.

Hillary as Cinderella

The mind of Hillary emerges from the account of these four writers too. Hillary tells Robert Reich to communicate with Bill about his  agenda on worker's rights via private memos to her on blank paper with only a date and his initials. This is Hillary, the secret manipulator who uses a back channel to control policy as she did in manipulating Daddy Hugh. I believe Mother Dorothy manipulated Hugh too and I'm sure Hillary will tell us about it in her autobiography. By the time Hillary was First Lady of Arkansas, she was really in control of the Rodhams so Daddy Hugh and Mother Dorothy and her brothers moved to Arkansas from Illinois.

Dick Morris also allies himself with Hillary's strengths in the White House as he contends for Bill's ear and policy decisions. He decides to meet with Hillary's staff, "the girls" in addition to his meetings with Bill's staff, "the boys."  Another time when Hillary stops going to Bill's policy meetings, Morris briefs her on policy issues in separate sessions.

Reich's book helps us understand Hillary as the  little girl who shows "hurt and anger...just  beneath the surface... covered  by an aloofness "that "can't take sympathy well." Reich sees her as a vulnerable  "rabbit" after Hillary "chaired the health plan... a mistake."  Hillary's defenselessness is like Mother Dorothy's weakness in the face of Daddy Hugh's bullying. It is a paradox that Hillary the manipulator is also Hillary the fearful. But why was Hillary's vulnerability concealed, Reich asks when it could have served to humanize Hillary, the "strong woman" who needed friends in the press. This little girl weakness is deeply repressed and here we leave Reich's sympathetic understanding of Hillary for the cruel words of the Wicked Stepsisters, Gennifer and Dolly.

Dolly Kyle Browning portrays Hillary whom she renames Mallory as a Cinderella, "...dowdy-looking... wearing a misshapen brown dress-like thing...to hide her lumpy  body..fat ankles and thick calves covered with black hair...wide feet...hair on her toes...a definite odor of perspiration...greasy hair...eyes bulged out of focus... dark thick eyebrow which crossed ...her forehead..." Gennifer describes Hillary as, "...a fat frump...hair hanging down...big thick glasses...ugly dress...a big fat butt...behaving oddly...buzzing around." Bill's mother Virginia, another rivalrous Southern woman had a similar if more muted response when she met Hillary, "No makeup. Coke-bottle glasses. Brown hair with no apparent style."

This is Cinderella before the arrival of the Fairy Godmother and Prince Charming when the dirty and ragged char girl is transformed into a Princess: influential attorney, policy leader, cultural icon, intellectual, author, mother and a styled First Lady. Why dredge up the sludge then? Because beside the Oedipal, sadomasochistic, frigid and over controlled Hillary is the needy little girl, beautiful and worthy who is searching for love. Of course, the two contradictory Hillarys are a paradox but both need to be acknowledged.

Back to the table of contents.

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