Bill Clinton was the first elected president in our two hundred year history to be impeached although Andrew Johnson, the vice president who became president after Lincoln's assassination was also impeached. Andrew Jackson was censured by Congressional resolution and I recall calls for FDR's impeachment during the Thirties. Richard Nixon was threatened with impeachment before he resigned.
The constitution says the standard for impeachment of a president is "high crimes and misdemeanors." A majority of the House of Representatives must vote to impeach a President and after a trial by the Senate, a two thirds majority of the Senate is needed to remove the President from office. Impeachment has a complex history since 1386 in England and then in America but a notable empirical definition in 1970 by President Gerald R. Ford, then a Congressman was, An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives consider it to be at a given moment of history. Impeachment like the law itself is a psychodrama where emotions are major players as in Woody Allen's child custody hearing, O. J. Simpson's trial and the Microsoft antitrust case.
Two psychological questions stand out in the impeachment maelstrom.
First, how did Bill Clinton's unconscious lead to impeachable behavior, his lies under oath and the related charges? The answer leads us immediately to Bill's sexual invitation to Paula Jones to "kiss it" and her response by lawsuit, the Lewinsky affair and to Bill's untruthful answers about sex to the Jones' attorneys. Seeking motivation, we look at Bill's unconscious where we find his sadomasochism, his risk-taking, his narcissism and his flawed conscience or superego. (See the earlier sections on these topics.) These are the forces that resulted in Bill's White House sex with Monica and his lies that led to pain for sadomasochist Bill and for many others. Bill's defenses and his superego weren't working very well.
The balance between Bill's id, the unconscious and his ego didn't lead to impeachment during his twelve years as governor of Arkansas or his first term in the White House. He was lucky for sixteen years but then Bill's internal psychodynamics shifted. This was during his change of life, the male menopause (See Bill and Hillary's Change of Life) but there were likely other unknown psychological dimensions in this change of fortune.
Second, what was the national psychology behind the impeachment? The answer is the murder and the devouring of the father by the primal horde, Freud's prehistoric icon for all times.
Freud tells us about this event, The father of the primal horde, since he was an unlimited despot, had seized all the women for himself; his sons, being dangerous to him as rivals, had been killed or driven away. One day, however, the sons came together and united to overwhelm, kill and devour their father, who had been their enemy but also their ideal. After the deed they were unable to take over their heritage since they stood in one another's way. Under the influence of failure and regret they learned to come to an agreement among themselves, they banded into a clan of brothers...and they jointly undertook to forgo the possession of the women on whose account they had killed their father. They were then driven to finding strange women... Freud tells us how this led to a system of marriage that prevented incest by requiring a mate from outside the man's own clan.
The time line of the impeachment's main emotional torrent ran from the House resolution for an impeachment inquiry in November 1997 to Clinton's acquittal by the Senate in February 1999. The rush toward impeachment had a life of its own as it engulfed both the Republican mainstream and the hate-Clinton fringe with multimillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife's Arkansas Project. After his acquital, threats to indict and prosecute Clinton for perjury lingered. He was fined $90,000 by a court for false statements and he lost his Arkansas law license. There was a dustup about gifts taken from the White House and other gifts given to President Bill on the eve of his departure from the White House, then an investigation of the pardon of Marc Rich and a controversy about whether the ex-President's office should be in midtown Manhattan or in low-rent Harlem. These were the tail of a spent impeachment comet.
Freud mentions that a maternal Goddess-centered culture may have preceded the primal horde events or maybe followed them although he writes only a patriarchal story of the origin of civilization. Even if the murder of the primal father was not a historical event, Freud says it is crucial in explaining the evolution of prehistoric hordes into societies with morality, religions and governments. The transmission of this psychohistory across fifty thousand or a hundred thousand years is assigned to a continuity of the human unconscious, an idea which is as controversial as the primal horde theory itself.
The murdered primal father was a powerful, admired violent, jealous man who kept all the women for himself while the impeachment attacked a powerful president who was widely admired even among his enemies as an astute politician and a charismatic vote-getter. Bill was attractive to women, unforgiving to his political enemies and jealous of his prerogatives which ranged from revising the Democratic Party to crafting a new North American trade system. He was violent in his temper outbursts , hitting Dick Morris and exploding in a death threat against a blundering staffer according to Bob Woodward. (Also see Acting Out among Bill's Ego Defenses) Former lovers feared for their lives after their relationship with Bill was over.
No precise symbol for the cannibal feast of the sons on Primal Father Clinton's flesh emerges but the media's endless chewing of the impeachment bones may qualify. The timelessness of the unconscious helps as we contemplate a 52-year old son, Ken Starr and a 75 year-old son, Henry Hyde savoring primal father Bill Clinton's 52 year-old meaty remains.
The psychology of impeachment begins in Presidents Bill's unconscious resulting in the high crimes and misdemeanors. The impeachment itself resulted from the national unconscious emotional force of the murder and cannibalism of the primal father by a horde of sons.
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An excerpt from Bill Clinton Meets The Shrinks, by Paul Lowinger