From Wall St Journal, Aug 4:
August 4, 1999
In Sickness--and in Health?
By Eric S. Cohen, assistant editor of The Public Interest.
Hillary Clinton's recent comments about her "abused" husband should surprise no one. After months of impressive, even stoic, silence on the state of her marriage, the first lady finally "feels comfortable" with her husband's latest round of adultery. Now it's healing time--with the first lady as therapist and the president as patient.
Mrs. Clinton is a master of therapeutic politics, second only to her husband. She has absorbed the jargon of psychologists--self-esteem, dysfunctional family, patterns of abandonment--and their psychological worldview, namely, that individuals misbehave because of some chemical, social or familial disorder. In her interview with Talk magazine, we see the therapeutic mind at work. The first lady's story is a postmodern morality tale in five acts:
Act One: The Suffering Victim. Mrs. Clinton presents her husband as an "abused" child. "He was so young, barely four, when he was scarred by abuse that he can't even take it out and look at it," she said. "There was a terrible conflict between his mother and grandmother." This "terrible conflict" obviously left the young president-to-be sad and confused. The incident looms in his subconscious; it has affected how he relates to women throughout his entire life. It has made him chronically unfaithful, a disorder that he has worked hard to "conquer." "He has become more aware of his past and what was causing this behavior," the first lady said. Note that the phrase causing this behavior absolves Mr. Clinton from responsibility for his actions.
Act Two: The New Priestly Class. Mrs. Clinton bolsters her interpretation of her husband's "scarred" psyche by appealing to the new moral authorities in America, the psychologists and therapists. "A psychologist once told me that for a boy, being in the middle of a conflict between two women is the worst possible situation," Mrs. Clinton said. Notice the indirect reference to Freud, who believed that young boys want to kill their fathers and marry their mothers. The first lady knows her psychoanalysis.
Act Three: I Feel, Therefore I Am. The day after the first lady's story went public, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart flatly denied that the president was physically abused. At the same time, Mr. Lockhart said that the president "completely agrees" with the first lady's statements, including, one presumes, the statement about "abuse." And yet, Mr. Lockhart also said that the president "felt blessed with his life, with his family, with the love that he got."
Confused? So was the White House press corps. One reporter pressed Mr. Lockhart to explain why the first lady would say that the president was "scarred by abuse" if he wasn't abused. Mr. Lockhart repeated over and over that the president "feels comfortable with the way she talked about things." So again, Mr. Clinton feels "comfortable" being characterized as the victim of abuse and he also feels "blessed" by "the love that he got" as a child. Well, feelings are all that matter in the therapeutic worldview, and feelings don't have to be consistent. Abuse is in the eye of the beholder. There was yelling; the young Mr. Clinton was "scarred." It's all very clear.
Act Four: Return of the Right-Wing Conspiracy. Poor President Clinton is the victim not only of an abusive mother and grandmother, but also of "jealous" critics. "People are mean," the first lady said. "I think it's a real disservice, the way we sort of strip away everybody's sense of dignity, or privacy." Of course, last year, when Mrs. Clinton explained that her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky was a fiction cooked up by a "vast right-wing conspiracy," she acknowledged that if he actually had had an affair with Ms. Lewinsky, it would be a serious public issue. But so what? The important thing is that Mr. Clinton deserves his dignity back.
Act Five: The Resilient Hero. Through it all, Mrs. Clinton tells us, her husband has been a great president. "Can you imagine what it took for him to go on after losing everything, to still get up each morning and do your job?" the first lady asked. "What is so amazing is that Bill has not been defeated by this." After all, all Americans have some "dysfunction" in their lives. But that doesn't mean they can't be great husbands, fathers, and presidents. "Yes, he needs to be more disciplined, but it is remarkable given his background that he turned out to be the kind of person he is, capable of such leadership." He is, she concluded, "a very, very good man."
Whether or not Mrs. Clinton actually believes any of this is beside the point. What should disturb us is the therapeutic culture that has made her "morality" tale possible. It's in line with the emotive politics of the day. It's told in the language that school counselors across the nation use to justify putting 4 million children on Ritalin. It is the justification that criminals use to explain away their crimes. It is the basis for endless lawsuits for "emotional injury." It is the moral basis for the American Psychiatric Association's conclusion that more than half of all Americans will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.
In the therapeutic world, all of us are "sick." And if we believe that, then we deserve a sick president.
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