Clintonia, the place of the Clinton Presidency needs its own psychohistory. After giving birth to psychoanalysis, Freud developed psychohistory to understand creativity, religion and history by looking at their unconscious foundations. His early psychohistorical studies were of the art of Leonardo da Vinci and the monotheism of Moses while later he wrote a book on Woodrow Wilson and the treaty of Versailles with William Bullitt, and American diplomat. A survey of Clintonia needs to examine the culture and politics of the Nineties where Hillary and Bill are the icons like Eisenhower was in the Fifties, Kennedy in the Sixties, arguably Nixon in the Seventies and Reagan in the Eighties.
A national history is a series of stories with different layers of meaning. To seek the hidden or unconscious meaning of the Clintonian Nineties, we need a psychoanalysis of Betty and John Q. Public. This is justified when we realize how few tools there are to explain the irrational behavior of societies like the U.S.A. You can't depend on the visible motives of patriots and villains, changes in the biophysical environment, famine, disease, wars, class conflict, self-interest or even the wisdom of economists to understand a nation. Recall the mysterious demise of civilizations like the Mayans before the arrival of the Spanish or the Etruscans who lived in Italy before the Romans. A cult of cannibalism led to the near-extinction of the great cliff dwelling Ananazi civilization in our Southwest about 1150 A.D. according to anthropologist Christy Turner. While the psychohistory of individuals from biographical data offers the obstacles mentioned earlier, the study of a national mind is even more dicey. After all, what is a normal nation?
The relationship of Bill and Hillary to the nation can be focused by three questions: Do we get the Presidential Couple we deserve? What is the relationship between the President and First Lady and the country, the leader and the led? Are both the President and the people really controlled by the forces of history like Manifest Destiny, the Depression or the Cold War?
William Jefferson Clinton is the President we deserve because metaphorically, he is us. The American Pie is complete with Hillary in the presidential package. "No one gets to run for president on his terms. The terms you run on are set by the American people and that means what the American people are receptive to," says pundit Roger Simon. Bill is the leader "... we have asked for and don't know quite what to make of, " explains writer Stephen Dubner.
Well, at least the Clintons are more like us then Bush and Barbara, Dole and Elizabeth and the Perots. If they arenít like you, use the American prism to add Pearl Jam, Martha Stewart, Mike Tyson, Bill Gates, Ray Charles, Jimmy Swaggert, Sharon Stone, Patricia Ireland, Pat Buchanan, Amy Tan or Ralph Nader. Maybe Beavis and Butthead or the Simpsons too.
Our zeitgeist, the spirit of the Nineties is already the subject of academics, film producers, novelists and pundits but I want to look at the unconscious part of the national mind. Beneath the shores and lagoons of our collective persona are the tectonic and volcanic forces that shape the American mind.
What are these psychocultural landmarks of the Clintonian Nineties?
First and foremost, sexuality is the new and noisy issue of the Nineties. This is not just the classifieds where men seek women, women seek men, men seek men and women seek women. This is culture wars, a journey into an America which is polarized into one community which is permissive, prochoice, tolerant of gay rights and anti-patriarchal while the another America is fundamentalist, censorious, patriarchal and opposed to abortion and homosexuality. Conservatives who support the right to privacy are caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile lurking in the erotic wings are the images of Bill's affairs, Hillary's lesbian relationships and her affair with Vincent Foster and the Clinton's open marriage. The sexuality of the Nineties results in the turmoil between Ken Starr and the White House about Billís bimbo sexuality, his apology and Hillary's defense of Bill.
The Nineties are a stage in a sexual revolution beginning with the Pill researched in the Fifties, the liberated Sixties, a gay and a womenís movement in the Seventies and AIDS in the Eighties. For those with a longer memory, the sexual revolution in this century began in the Twenties with the flapper generation, jazz, bathtub gin and women smoking cigarettes.
The sexual revolution has returned led by Bill and Hillary but also by Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. The immediate effect has been Billís continued high approval rating before and after he admitted he had sex with Monica. His two elections were about the economy but 1992 was also a referendum on the Flowers affair while his 1996 election discounted the Paula Jones accusation. Hillary's stand by Bill is active, visible and planned like Tammy Wynette whose lyrics assert, "Remember, heís only a man." Hillary is a liberated woman who acts according to her own lights. The polls were up for Hillary too as she led on both cultural and political issues during the 1998 campaign.
This is a new Ninetiesí sexuality, not the Fiftiesí climate control nor the "dope, rock and roll and fucking in the streets" described by the Sixties' poet John Sinclair. The Nineties are the time of safe-sex-AIDS-awareness, single parents, gay marriage and a subdued sprinkling of S and M. Married and unmarried couples often say they are monogamous but adultery is acknowledged nationally by a third of the married women (the same number as in Hillary's Wellesley class of '69) and half the married men. The Lewinsky publicity, the prurient Starr report, the chutzpah of Bill's legalistic rebuttal, his apologies and Hillary's stand by Bill tend to make adulterers feel less guilty. Who could better initiate their forgiveness then President Bill and First Lady Hillary, the Boomers who attend church each Sunday with Bibles in their hands? Maybe Americans will celebrate Billís August 17, 1998 apology as Adultery Amnesty Day, the first private national holiday.
The new sexuality of Clintonia has a dark side with its unleashing of the the forces of sexual repression. The media concentration on the Lewinsky-Clinton foreplay along with the attacks on the right of presidential privacy come from a long tradition of puritanism.
Lewinsky-Clinton is Salem Revisited, according to Arthur Miller who points out that "witch hunts are always spooked by women's horrifying sexuality awakened by the superstud Devil...with witch-hunting ministers (who) examine women's bodies for signs of the Devil's marks..." The Salem and the European witch hunts in which tens of thousands of women perished resulted from a misogyny which remains alive in our unconscious.
The prototype is the fear and hatred of an Eve who is held responsible for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Biblical sexism. The witch trials were specifically aimed at women's liaisons with Satan who came to them in many guises. The victims of the European witch hunts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were frequently poor or older single women or widows who had worked as lying-in maids for richer, married women after the birth of a baby. The accusers were frequently women whose child failed to thrive or died or those who suffered from other misfortunes. But it was men who solicited the accusations, initiated the trials and then judged and punished the witches. The witch who was hunted, tortured, tried and burned is the prototype for the evil punished by the McCarthyism of the Fifties and now the Starr investigation which targeted both Monica and Bill. Like the witchcraft trials, it is directed by men but there are crucial roles for women accusers, witnesses and victims, Hillary, Paula, Monica, Linda, Susan McDougal, Kathleen Willey and Julie Hiatt Steele for example.
The witch has survived and today, the world's bestselling author, Stephen King in his novel It, informs this fear of women who, "...smell of the monster...a creature which would eat anything but which was especially hungry for boymeat." This fear from the unconscious and myth is acknowledged by King with unusual frankness when he says that his greatest sexual fear is, " The vagina dentata, the vagina with teeth."
The attack on sexual Clintonia is also directed against the prochoice position, an openly gay ambassador, art from the National Endowment using sexual images and even a White House Christmas ornament, probably a fertility goddess called Bertha's Big Butt by author Gary Aldrich, a retired FBI agent. This sexual McCarthyism has also invaded the private lives of Republican Representatives Burton, Hyde, Chenoweth, Livingston, Barr and Gingrich with news stories about their adultery. An irony is that Clinton signed a law opposing homosexual marriage, sponsored legislation that makes legal wiretapping easier and offered proposals for internet censorship.
Beneath the conscious events of the Nineties is the return of the Goddess, who renews sexuality, fertility, maternity and the earth itself. There is a resurgence of the Yin archetype, the female force in a balance with Yang, the male principle. Yin is earth to Yang's heaven, night to Yang's day, the valley to Yang's mountain and in a more controversial dichotomy, Yin is feeling and receptivity to Yang's intellect and creativity. The Yin forces of the Goddess influence both men and women just as the Yang energy of Zeus also plays on both sexes. Jungians invoke the Chi energy of the unconscious to explain the Yin-Yang balance.
The Goddess reemerges in the Nineties because of increasing threats to survival from pollution, global warming, overpopulation, the loss of plant and animal species, environmental destruction and nuclear weapons. Recall that the Goddess or Great Mother includes both the Terrible Mother or Death Goddess as well as the Good Mother.
The mind of the group is influenced by its collective unconscious where the archetypes hold sway according to Jung and his followers, Neumann and Whitmont. When we seek these archetypes we find them in art, religion, myths, folklore, play and dreams. More controversial is the Jungian idea that these archetypes originate in the racial mind of the species. Freud also studied the collective unconscious but found its origin in social development rather then in the genes, an issue that is still being debated.
Second, Neofeminism is pivotal to the Nineties as well as to its government, business, education, culture, law and science. Itís Neo because it is not the feminism of the Seventies when there was an anti-heterosexual bias, attacks on the traditional family, womenís affinity groups and no celebrities. Neofeminism has luminaries like writer Gloria Steinam, entertainment promotions like Madonna and a buzz of sex chat and gossip. The Neofeminist avatar is Co-president Hillary but there are other power centers like the first woman Secretary of State, Madeline Albright and the first woman Attorney General, Janet Reno. This is a mindset that visualized Elizabeth Dole as a Republican presidential or maybe as a vice presidential candidate in 2000.
In the Nineties, the political power of women voters increased as they played a key role in both Clintonís elections. The gender gap means that women voted for Clinton in a higher proportion then men. Clintonia included the Year of Woman in 1992 when three new female Senators were elected.
Women's concerns included the Democrat's focus on education, health care, the environment and Social Security as well as the traditional feminist causes of gender equity, abortion rights, childcare and benefits for poor women and children. They are on Hillary's agenda and were present during Bill's campaigns. It is of interest that the issues of most concern to California voters during an exit poll after the 1998 election were education, 19% and abortion, 16% followed by the economy, jobs and taxes while the environment, gun control and the Lewinsky affair trailed in the single digits. The Democratic Party as the Neofeminist engine is a legacy that awaits the verdict of a history that is clouded by Bill's welfare reform with its scuttling of the safety net for poor women and children in his second term.
Another Neofeminist statement from the White House is about the relationship between women and men. Hillary was a successful attorney, a policy leader and raised a child while married to Governor Bill and then in the White House she continued her political leadership while mothering teenage Chelsea and being the First Lady. This is a new American homily about the Presidential Family. That their marriage is troubled and that some of the dissension is public gives this neofeminist love story more rather then less visibility.
Bill Clintonís national sexual theater beginning during his 1992 campaign led directly to this Neofeminism. This was not the plan of the feminists or their enemies but it happened on Hillary and Billís watch. It was Billís in-house sexuality that led to an awareness of the womenís agenda in a way that the ERA and abortion rights didn't do. The feminists were prochoice, equal rights, Anita Hill supporters and the antifeminists were in opposition but Billís spectacle was a scream at both factions with a whisper of irony.
The national attention was first on Gennifer and Bill, then on Paula and Bill and finally on Monica and Bill with Hillary completing each of these triangles. National tournaments of prurience, sermonizing and spin reached supersaturation. Widow Kathleen Willeyís case contributed briefly while snitch Linda Tripp and literary agent Lucienne Goldberg had walk-on parts. The power of a sexual platform with Ken Starr, the White House players, the Secret Service, Matt Drudge and the journalists, attorneys William Ginsburg and Bob Bennett and a cast of hundreds eclipsed issues like campaign finance reform, Iraqís weapons of mass destruction, the survival of Social Security and even the sins of the IRS.
A separate womenís role in the Nineties is best exemplified by Gaia, the first matter to emerge from the void during creation. A later incarnation of Gaia is Athena, born from Zeusí forehead as the Goddess of wisdom and victory in war for Athens. Androgynous Athena who invented the ship and domesticated the olive is a virgin Goddess in a promiscuous Pantheon. Hillary-Athena, an American Goddess who is nurtured by Passive Mother Dorothy faced Curmugeon Daddy Hugh in a love-hate Oedipal struggle from which she emerged with Hughís dark powers. She continued to contest the oppressors, Daddy Hugh and Husband Bill and so gives voice and strength to the Village, especially its women and children. She speaks with fury and sacred curses, a language that is undecipherable to many. The neofeminist legacy from Hillary is served with the salt and pepper of her suffering and the hot sauce of her anger too.
Third, is the nihilism which is emblematic of the emptiness, passivity and centrism of American politics in the Nineties. This is a style of inactivity and moderation which contrasts to the density and activism of both the liberated Sixties and the Reagan Revolution of the Eighties.
The electorate is cynical, apathetic and disinterested as the number of voters declines in each election. A variety of emotions affect the citizen: anger at government, loss of hope for a better system, distrust of politicians and black humor. Nobody for President is the message of Wavy Gravy.
In addition to public lethargy, there is fear and anger about public service which was expressed in the suicide note of Vincent Foster, the White House counsel who wrote about a Washington climate where "ruining people is considered a sport." The same feelings of frustration affect the members of Congress who often decide not to return for another term and the citizens who avoid political careers or even temporary public appointments. The voters and the politicians feel powerless.
This political passivity and nihilism is Surplus Powerlessness. I worked with Psychologist Michael Lerner in Oakland during the Eighties when his studies of occupational stress groups led to the identification of Surplus Powerlessness. Most people suffer from real powerlessness as workers and as citizens leading to their cynicism, passivity and frustration. These workers and citizens who are the victims of real powerlessness blame themselves and this leads to Surplus Powerlessness, a further and crucial increase in isolatioorldnger, suspicion and alienation that prevents action. Worse still, the victims of Surplus Powerlessness often turn their anger on each other.
The Nineties' preference for centrism and moderation expresses the ambivalence and apathy of the voters who choose a government divided between a Democratic President and a Republican Congress. Bill's personality of ambivalence and indecision and Hillaryís pragmatism are the mirror image of these Nineties' voters.
The landmarks of Clintoniaís domestic program are moderate and centrist: NAFTA, an increased minimum wage, the Brady bill, transferability of health benefits, family leave, subsidies for child care, more police, anti-terrorism laws, welfare reform, a tax increase, benefits for education, a balanced budget and deficit reduction. This contrasts with the Himalayan peaks and valleys of domestic policy during the postwar era: McCarthyism, polio vaccine, Medicare, putting a man on the moon, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and firing the striking air traffic controllers.
During the last year of his second term Clinton may improve education, reform campaign financing, assert the health rights of consumers against the HMO's, repair Social Security and offer low cost prescriptions to seniors but these are also moderate and centrist. Maybe Clinton will break the mold and meet with extraterrestials at a secret Air Force base in Nevada but I doubt it.
International Clintonia is also moderate with its restoration of democracy in Haiti, the Dayton peace plan for Bosnia, the Northern Ireland agreement facilitated by George Mitchell, the military intervention in Kosovo and a White House role in the final phase of the Oslo agreement for the Mideast. These are important but they are not major events like the Marshall Plan, NATO, wars in Korea and Vietnam or the beginning and the end of the Cold War. During the remainder of Clintonís second term, the challenges in Iraq, North Korea, former Yugoslavia, Taiwan and elsewhere are unpredictable but the attempts at solutions are not likely to change American foreign policy. Other moderate Clinton's policies are the inaction in the thorny human rights issues in the Sudan, China, Indonesia, Rwanda, Nigeria. Afghanistan and until 1999, East Timor. There were wars without intervention: Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, the Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Chechnya. There were confrontations without resolution between India and Pakistan now both with nuclear weapoansf
Fourth, the Boomer's took the power in the Nineties. The Boomers finally stood tall when the forty-somethings, Hillary and Bill took over the White House from their parents, the World War II Presidents and First Ladies.
Successions are contentious and tumultuous; the son is often a rebel like Satan who is pictured by Milton as Godís most brilliant angel. Zeus faced his succession problem by swallowing Metis who was pregnant with his offspring. Zeusí father Cronos who married Rhea feared his children and swallowed them but Zeus escaped to Crete. Cronos whose father, Uranos had imprisoned him in Hades escaped and used a sickle to castrate his father. This brings us back to Goddess Gaia who had mothered Cronos.
Rebel Oedipus was a son who killed his father and married his mother. Although Billís father William Blythe died before Bill was born, fourteen year old Bill felled his brutal stepfather Roger Clinton with a blow to protect his mother Virginia. Oedipus became a King who was punished by remorse, blindness and a life of exile but eventually he was called by the Gods to the Pantheon from his death in a Sacred Grove. Oedipusí tragic story was a divine legend so despite his behavior there was no personal culpability. Oedipus as a victim and finally transcendent is an imperfect surrogate for Bill but it is a way to see him as a tragic hero headed for symbolic punishment and wandering and then perhaps a transition into a hallowed statesman. Like Nixon who was almost impeached before he resigned, Bill too maybe redeemed from impeachment and scandal by history.
The Nineties are an Equivocal Decade because they are formed by the Kennedy Sixties and the Reagan Eighties. A generation in the Sixties was defined by rock and roll, mind altering drugs and sexual freedom as it struggled for individual and cultural liberation, for civil and human rights and against the war in Vietnam using civil and sometimes uncivil disobedience.
The Reagan Revolution of the Eighties fought against government regulation and for personal wealth and the freedom of the marketplace. The Sixties' sexual revolution and its attack on authority was answered by a Reagan cabinet officer, William Bennett who wrote The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals.
In the Nineties, there was an uneasy truce between the Sixties and the Eighties in our national character. Nonetheless, the psychocultural warfare of the Nineties and beyond explains the animus in both the attack and the defense of Bill and Hillary.
The Equivocal Decade found its symbols: Hillary-Athena as the Good and Bad Goddess and Bill as Zeus among the Nymphs.
©Paul Lowinger 2000
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An excerpt from Bill Clinton Meets The Shrinks, by Paul Lowinger