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TIME On Politics

What's Sex Got To Do With It?

By Roger Rosenblatt

TIME This Week

(TIME, February 9) -- Warning: the following is a hypothesis based on a scrap of hearsay occurring within an allegation, and if one finds it wacko, so be it. But it seems to me that something is painfully true at the heart of the leaked White House claim, quickly denied, that there was an "emotional bond" between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. This is not to say that there was no sexual relationship, or that the phrase was not a concoction to get him off the hook, or that he ought to be off the hook.

I should say too that a man who is profligate with his affections is vulnerable to any accusation, and that amateur psychobabble about him when his back is up against the wall may be dirty pool, and that one hates to abet the sneaky little world of secretly taped sex chats.

All that disclaimed, the idea of seeking an emotional bond with anyone seems central to the Clinton psyche that has been on national display since New Hampshire, 1992.

Clinton does not want sex; he wants love. He never got enough as a kid (dead father, abusive stepfather, absent mother), and he cannot get enough of it now. Anyone who is not given sufficient love as a child will spend the rest of his life looking for it, and so he has. Yet because of that childhood deficit, he doesn't believe in love, either; he doesn't trust it. He probably loves Hillary Clinton as much as he is able to love any woman, but he is essentially faithless. She, I believe, understands this and, in a brave and practical way, has become the manager of his predicament.

His predicament, I think, consists of his being at once a romantic and tragic character, built with enormous energy and prodigious hungers, and a flaw as certain as a gene. As a romantic he is capable of shocking recklessness. The apparently vindicated Gennifer Flowers spoke last week of an incident in their affair in which Clinton wanted her to do it with him in the bathroom of the Governor's mansion while a party was in full swing and Mrs. Clinton was nearby. If he were merely going for a quickie, it would have been monumentally stupid to imperil an entire political future. If, however, he felt that he was playing a high-risk romantic game, he gladly would have become a fool for love. Sex would have been the least of it.

Then there is the dark side of this recklessness, which reaches back into his past. Whatever wildness he tries, he may feel that he is in fact risking very little, since the worst has already happened to him.

Which brings us to the tragic Clinton and to the flaw of disloyalty, to his wife and to others. I have always wondered why a man famous for F.O.B.s treated them so badly, and my guess is that he thinks there must be something wrong with anyone who would be loyal to him -- a pathetic version of Groucho's joke about club membership -- so he doesn't believe in loyalty any more than he believes in love. On the other hand, he has great faith in rejection, having experienced it when it counted most, thus he seeks and rejects simultaneously.

As for disloyalty to his wife, he simply may feel that he is compelled to follow a perpetual quest, which overpowers all other considerations -- fair play, personal honor, even her loyalty to him.

Where does all this leave Mrs. Clinton? Her performance on last week's Today show was an interesting fusion of political hackwork and personal calm, though one would assume that she is going through hell again. Yet in marriages, both successful and serviceable, a weakness in one partner is often compensated for by a strength in the other. No one knows better than Mrs. Clinton that her husband will not find true love with another person, since he can't find what he doesn't truly trust. He needs her for that understanding, but she may need him as well; his frailty has ceded her the chief-executive role in their marriage. If such things could be measured, I would bet that they love each other as devotedly as more conventional couples.

In a way, Mrs. Clinton is like King Arthur; she holds the fort while her knight errant goes looking for grails and girls. She is much more than that, of course -- a tough and good- hearted woman -- as he is much more than a longing boy. He too is tough and good-hearted (moral men do immoral things), and he has been a responsible and careful President. If he is out of control in one quarter, he is steady as a rock in the other. The hard part comes when one imagines Mrs. Clinton's knight, alone and in full and useless armor, looking out over the endless hills for nothing.

I called an eminent psychoanalyst friend of mine to verify or shoot down the above hypothesis. She refused to do either, explaining that a trained psychoanalyst ought only to speculate about a person's vulnerabilities in a context of care. She didn't say so, but I think she applied that caution to everyone.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: February 9, 1998

The Trouble With Monica
Inside Starr And His Operation
"THIS IS A BATTLE." -Hillary Clinton
The Keeper Of Secrets Is In Starr's Sights
The Week Feminists Got Laryngitis
Just Keep 'Em Laughing
First Lady In Chief
More Froggy Than The French
Persectued or Paranoid?
Indecent Exposure
The Netly News: All Monica All The Time
Notebook: A Good Poke In The Eye?
Al's Turn For Good News?
With A Friend Like This...
Laws That Run Amok
What's Sex Got To Do With It?
Eager Minds, Big Ear
As Washington Burns...

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