I know what this is about, this Clinton-Lewinsky thing.
I’ve been there and I know the energy of it deep inside.
I knew before I heard the (female) psychologists report on it this morning on NPR (09/18); “She’s [Lewinskiy] an immature woman who used the gateway of sex to try to get approval from a man. Once President Clinton realized what was going on, that this wasn’t just going to be a causal sexual encounter, it was too late; she had already taken the thing to and-someday-we’ll-be-married levels, and his withdrawal caused her to become more and more desperate to have him. She began to try emotional blackmail, saying that she would tell people about it, to keep him engaged. This was a scenario for ‘Fatal Attraction’ and the President began to try to cover his tracks as much as possible.” etc.
When I heard Clinton covering I knew exactly what he was doing and why he felt he had to do it. His bravado in the face of questioning, his flat denials of “anything happening with that woman.” was all too familiar; I had done it all. I denied it all to my wife and anyone else I felt I needed to defend myself to. I became angry over accusations. I blamed the “her” involved in order to discredit the other and keep myself “safe.” I defended and defended and denied and denied. Until the evidence was all in. Until the house of cards fell and I was caught in the act. Until there was no way out.
And I didn’t have to stand before flashbulbs and tv cameras. Before an elected body of blamers. Before the moral conscious crusaders. At least not in public. I had all of those inside of me.
So, nothing in this thing is difficult for me to understand, nor is it, as some would have us all believe, an indication of a flawed character. What I saw in it was a man trying to get out of a bad situation that he never saw coming. He was reacting in a fully human way to something that threatened all that he held to be important coming from what he had thought of as a relatively trivial dalliance, and rather than give it more energy than he thought it deserved, he decided the best course was to dodge and avoid, then maybe it would go away. This is not an indication of a flawed character, this is a naiveté born of a lack of understanding of Lewinsky’s depth of desperation and her intoxication with her dream in which he had been cast into the role of the Knight she had been searching for.
He was playing one game, she was playing another. She was dancing with the power of her sexuality; “Can I seduce this most powerful of men?” He with; “Can we have some fun without any problems, without any dues to pay?”
Men often assume that woman can play in shallows of sex without assuming there is, or can be more to it. Some women can; but this is, more often than not, the way that it eventually goes. Generally, she will lead the man into deeper and deeper waters, hoping that it will all lead to deeper commitment. Before he knows it he is in over his head and, if he really never intended to go this deep in the first place, he will abruptly break away and make for the safety of the shore; the place he knows, home.
(OK; here’s the politically correct disclaimer) sometimes the game is played in the reverse and it’s he that is looking for deeper water and she who is unwilling to go, etc. But, in fact, this is more rare and becomes the exception-that-proves-the-rule situation.)
Has he repented? Oddly enough, this is the question asked of people outside of him as if they would know his heart of hearts. The answer is; only he knows! I can tell you this about me; I have been repenting ever since; and paying the dues as well, as I continue to see the consequences of my behavior way back then, 20+ years ago, reflected in my children and grandchildren. Has he repented? He will repent for the rest of his life. How do I presume to know this? I have to trust my own reading of him as a man. As a fellow traveler on this road.
I feel empathy for this man. I do feel his pain, because I have done this thing. I have walked in those shoes—and I finally learned to see the danger signs and avoid the shallow-water playing all together. But before I got it I created a huge amount of pain and anxiety for years for myself, my then-wife, my children and everyone else I was involved with on every level, friends, co-workers, even casual acquaintances. It all had to go “public”, everyone got to know how foolish I had been, in order for me to finally get it; to finally understand that all actions have consequences. Even actions that I defined as “play.”
Therapists have pathologised this kind of behavior. I know because I was a therapist and was involved in doing just that. We in the therapeutic community supported ideas of co-dependency, sexual addiction, “womanizing” in order to deal with something we could not accept in ourselves—this natural desire to play in the shallows, this courtship stuff that lives in us all. We couldn’t see the humanness in it so we assumed it was, in a sense, inhuman. Bad. Even “sick.” Our deep and sometimes inexplicably desperate need to connect with each other became “co-dependency,” and we became suspicious of all caring behavior.
Strong sexual interest, especially male sexual interest, fell into a diagnosis of “sexual addiction.” The strong male drive to be with many women, to experiment, to “play the field,” even to search out the “right one” first through the sexual gateway, became “womanizing,” although a woman’s desire to sleep with more than one or two men never became “manizing.”
She just got labeled a “slut.” Usually by other women.
Of course all of these labels had useful aspects, but, as usual with these things, they were taken to extremes. They were used to label all sexual play between the sexes. Everybody was “sick” to some degree, unless chemically or psychologically castrated.
This made a broad playing field for the holier-than-thou and the “gotcha!” societies in our sexually hung up culture. And now, now that a big target of opportunity has come into focus, our guilt and shame mongers are into it.
Will the outcome breed a better understanding of who we are as human beings? Of the true nature of men and women? Of the battle between the adrenaline pumping sensational headlines and the calmer reflection and down to earth honesty about our own human failings?
Some will claim that Clinton abused his official power, as if he had power over Monica given his age and position. Look at the outcome: who had the real power to manipulate? Who had the real power to expose? Who had the real power to destroy? Men have been, and for the most part continue to be, the supplicants when it comes to sexual encounters. Women have been the yea-or-nay sayers. Who had the power in this dance?
If there is truly any higher purpose in all of this we will come to accept our own drama being acted out on the grand stage of public politics and grow up a little. Or we may, in fearful withdrawal from what is true about all of us at some time and at some level, decide to cast the stones and go home to hide again. In which case, we will be doing all of this again in the not too distant future. Because the truth of it is, a leader who is without the passion we so fear will not capture our hearts. Stuffiness has never gifted us with the kind of leadership we are attracted to and desire.
We want, at our deepest level, someone who will awaken the dreamer in us all; someone who will be a risk taker. That person will always be the most passionate among us. We deny that in our leaders in order to deny it in ourselves. It may be time to simply accept the idea that passion is a good thing, not a curse; and we all have to learn to live with it responsibly and responsively, even if it bites us now and then.
If we really want to “save the Presidency,” it’s not up to him to grow up; it’s up to us!