Bill Clinton Meets The Shrinks

A psychological study of President William Jefferson Clinton


by Paul Lowinger

  1. Bill and Hillary in Marriage
  2. Bill and Hillary's Change of Life


Hillary and Bill in Marriage

The  Clinton marriage which was already an icon became a national puzzle with the  Monica Lewinsky fire storm and  Bill's apology to Hillary and the nation on August 17, 1998.

There are two common speculations about Hillary's and Bill's marriage. One opinion is that it is a love match in which Hillary remains devoted and makes periodic  denials about Bill's philandering and Bill is dependent on Hillary for support and guidance despite his infidelities. The other view is that it is an arrangement or understanding about sharing political power and overlooking extra-marital activities.  This scenario says that Bill's numerous infidelities are tolerated; that Hillary has a lesbian love life and that she had an affair with Vince Foster.  The two marriage theories aren't really contradictory although they imply that a love marriage couldn't have a  commitment to political power sharing  and permissiveness about extra-marital liaisons while a power agreement marriage couldn't involve real love.

The only  direct answer about this was in 1992 during the Gennifer Flowers flap when Bill said on national television that they were in love and it was a marriage, not an arrangement or an understanding. Nonetheless we lack a satisfying explanation despite the proliferation of commentators on their marriage.

The Bill and Hillary story begins with their first meeting in the Yale Law School library in a fabled and maybe even true story of how Hillary accosted Bill who was so smitten he couldn't remember his own name. It has given way to rumors of unprintable domestic confrontations,  ashtrays and lamps thrown by Hillary and Bill's casual liaisons. At least so we're told. The emotional climate of their marriage is a psychohistorical reality  even though the gossipy details are variable.

The question is what keeps the marriage together. Of course,  President Bill and First Lady Hillary are power people but so are the Governors, CEO's and institutional Presidents some of whom have power-oriented spouses too. Columnist Stephanie Salter wrote, "It's the love, stupid" as she looked at Hillary and Bill about to kiss in a sexy photo from 1992. Meanwhile  Maureen Dowd, who talks about a power marriage says that the reason Hillary doesn't walk or talk  is because she likes "the look of the world  from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

People aren't packaged as tightly as the pundits' explanations  so maybe the Clintons have a combination of  a love and a power arrangement that oscillates between these poles. For months or years it's in one phase and then it reverses. We might get the answers  in Hillary's and Bill's tell-all books after they leave the Whitehouse but they'll  probably continue to stonewall.

Sadomasochism, both conscious and unconscious  is the secret of their marriage. Read Bill's Sadism and Masochism, Hillary's Sadism and Masochism and Hillary's Moral Masochism and the Monica Lewinsky Porno Flick for background but how does this really work?

There is little doubt that Bill's affair with Monica had a sadistic message for Hillary. Sadism  is the derivation of sexualized pleasure from pain inflicted on another so the affair has a double thrill for Bill, sexual at the point of production and sadistic in its  unconscious meaning. Then he's unmasked by Ken Starr, Linda Tripp and Monica herself and he suffers censure, demands for his resignation and threats of impeachment.

Likely Bill was also attacked privately by Hillary, the betrayed wife and a loser in her Clinton & Clinton stock equity. Now he was a disgraced husband-partner; his sexual affair was over and his creditability was down. Are adulterous husbands victims? Not really but then all Bill had left was his masochism, the sexualized pleasure produced by  his own pain.

Meanwhile what of Hillary who like Bill is a sadomasochist. She first appeared in the Monica affair as a victim of Bill's adultery and in this role suffered both emotional pain and masochistic pleasure. Then she went into "battle mode" and attacked Bill's accusers as right wing  and anti-Arkansas conspirators. Did she know the truth then or only suspect the worst? We can't be sure but her attacks on Bill's enemies are a source of sadistic pleasure. Finally the truth about Bill's bimbo eruption emerged. Again she had masochistic pleasure as a victim maybe helped along by her media-enhanced porno images of Bill's affair with Monica.

Bill and Hillary's Change of Life

Why did the Lewinsky scandal happen in 1998, six years after the Gennifer Flowers eruption in 1992 and four years after the Paula Jones lawsuit in 1994 which was based on an incident in 1991? Is this is the dangerous midlife whatsit celebrated by Gail Sheehy and Daniel Levinson as the female and male menopause with dual life crises?

The folk meaning of the change of life is the loss of  sexuality, fertility and attractiveness for both women and men. This often leads to an eruption of castration and separation fears and sometimes sadomasochism from the unconscious with its unresolved  Oedipal and pre-Oedipal complexes. For Bill, there was the revival of the sissy, a fat, clumsy little boy with masturbation guilt and anxiety about separation and castration. Bimbo eruptions are his response. They are accompanied by midlife Hillary in her familiar role as the wife of the errant husband. In 1998 Hillary relived her Cinderella role as the victim of Monica,  a new wicked stepsister.

Hillary's and Bill's midlife nest is newly empty with Chelsea gone to college,  A needy Hillary spoke during the 1996 campaign of a plan to adopt a baby although it was unlikely then and it has not been mentioned since. Bill adopted a Labrador named Buddy.

Society's traditional response to midlife has been to seek a fountain of youth or use goat gland implants, potions and cosmetic lotions but now these quests take the form of plastic surgery,  spas, estrogen, testosterone, human growth hormone and Viagra. Midlife is defined as a flexible zone from the late thirties onward into the forties and the fifties  but this is a  definition  influenced by our current life expectancy of 75  in contrast to 1900 when it was 49 years.

Despite the gloom about midlife, this transition show no change in group statistics on  sexual activity, divorce, mental disturbances or careers according to  researchers Hunter and Sundel.  But psychohistory is not consensus  and some midlife crises are just like Bill's: the husband has an affair with a younger woman in the office, family life is disrupted and  a forthcoming job change looms.

A more precise departure into the Lewinsky crisis is the role of channel fever.  Channel fever is the tense, edgy and erratic behavior of the ship's crew during the days before the end of a long sea voyage. The pre-oedipal maternal security and rhythm of the ship's routine is to exchanged for the uncertainty and hazards of the shore. Another version of this transition is "the shorts," the anxiety and irritability of a convict whose sentence has only a few weeks to run. Misbehavior is more likely in a previously tractable prisoner who is suffering from "the shorts."

Presidential shorts and channel fever are to be expected as the Clintons approach the end of eight years in the Whitehouse after their twelve years in the Governor's Mansion. There is the impending loss of the familiar routines of power and governance and the uncertain future for an ex-President and a former First Lady.

I saw something similar in my practice with the midlife crisis of a thirty-four year old ice hockey star facing obligatory retirement due to his age. His future seemed murky as he reacted with anxiety and depression that affected both his marriage and his children. Therapy helped this family and there's a hint here that it could help the Clintons.


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


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