That a man would have an extramarital affair is hardly indicative of sociopathy. That a middle-aged man would have an affair with a 21-year-old who works for him is reprehensible, but still not indicative of sociopathy. That a man would lie about his extramarital affairs is downright normal. Lying under oath is more serious, but even that doesn’t necessarily mean sociopathy. What betrays Bill Clinton’s sociopathy is the utter dishonesty which pervades every aspect of his life, his lack of impulse control, his disloyalty, his facile justifications, and his affect-hungry nature.
Like many sociopaths, Clinton will massage the truth even when he doesn‘t have to. But it is the bald-faced nature of many of his lies that really gives him away. During his 1992 campaign, Clinton heatedly denied an affair with Gennifer Flowers even after being caught on tape telling her how to deny their affair. Most married men lie about their affairs -- but few would have the gall to continue lying at that point. Clinton did. Five years later, during his deposition on the Paula Jones case, Clinton admitted the affair with Flowers. But even under oath, he admitted only to having had sex with her once, while Flowers -- by then the more credible of the two -- claimed a twelve year affair.
Many of Clinton’s lies are well documented. His tortured explanations for his draft dodging are classic Clinton slipperiness. Clinton said as little as possible on the subject of Whitewater, other than deny knowledge of it. (Are we to believe that as a poor young governor, this famously detail-oriented man knew nothing about his own investments?) Likewise, regarding Filegate and Travelgate, he was widely regarded as being disingenuous and evasive at best.
But much of Clinton’s dishonesty is not clearly visible until his behavior is viewed through the prism of sociopathy. Ironically, the Clinton comment most widely derided as a lie during his first term, his claim that he did not inhale the one marijuana cigarette he ever smoked, was, I think, the truth. His advisers would never have let him concoct such a ridiculous lie. And Clinton is, in fact, allergic to smoke. It also seems likely that during an era when it was considered cool to smoke marijuana (the late Sixties, when Clinton was at Oxford), he would have wanted to appear hip. Thus, when a joint was passed his way, Clinton probably would have taken a toke, but would have (deceptively) only faked inhaling. In this instance, Clinton was probably lying to his fellow students at the time (“This is good stuff. Man, have I got a buzz going!”) rather than the American public twenty odd years later. The public didn’t believe him because there is no point to smoking marijuana without inhaling. There is no point, that is, unless you are the kind of phony who wants to appear to be smoking when you’re not.
Perhaps most tellingly, Clinton is emotionally dishonest. He drips with the seemingly heartfelt sincerity that only the utterly insincere can muster at will. Whenever he reviewed and saluted the troops, he would sport the mock proud look; and whenever he was being applauded, the mock humble look. C-SPAN once showed President and Mrs. Clinton standing in a receiving line with the Ghanaian President and his wife. I was riveted by the sight of Clinton, who had just the day before been publicly accused of having raped Juanita Broaddrick as Governor, acting as if he were having the time of his life. He received each and every one of the guests as if he (or she) were the one Clinton had been looking forward to seeing all evening.
For most Presidents attending state funerals, it suffices to appear somber and dignified; Clinton always had to take it a step further, and act as if he was overcome with grief and trying bravely not to cry. Clinton exudes all the warmth that only the completely cold can project for anybody, anytime.
During a discussion of the poor during the 1992 Presidential debates, on several occasions Clinton looked down and bit his lower lip as if overcome with sadness at their plight. Are we to believe he was thus affected in the middle of a high-stakes debate? Human nature is such that our heartstrings are pulled by a sad personal story, not by a recitation of statistics. But the nature of a sociopath is that he is moved by neither, thus does not know when to pretend to be sad. (“Eighteen percent of Americans are living below the federally mandated poverty line as defined by HEW, a household income of $16,000 for a family of four -- boo hoo.”)
Telling the American people “I feel your pain” is just the sort of thing a sociopath would claim. At the time, this statement was widely viewed as an example of what a touchy-feely, emotional man the President was. But in fact, empathy is usually most heavily advertised by those who feel it the least, i.e., sociopaths. (Most of us just assume that others realize we feel some compassion, and thus don’t feel obliged to point it out.)
Clinton’s lying seems to know no bounds. The following is an excerpt from the December 25, 1998 issue of The Forward, headlined ‘Clinton Lied About Meeting Children: It was a Clinton classic. President Clinton stood before the Palestinian National Council and spoke of two ‘profoundly emotional experiences in less than 24 hours.’ One of those experiences was his meeting with the children of jailed Palestinian-Arab terrorists. The other experience was meeting Israelis, ‘some [in Clinton’s words] little children whose fathers had been killed in conflict with the Palestinians…..[But] the Israeli Embassy’s Minister for Public Affairs was unable to confirm that a meeting between Clinton and Israeli children ever took place….Other Israeli government sources who would speak only on condition of anonymity said Clinton never met with the Israeli children. The White House and State Department did not return calls about whether such a meeting took place. There was no such event on the public schedule of the trip.” In other words, this was just more phony emotionalism.
When the Dick Morris scandal broke in the summer of 1996, the media focused on the sexual aspects of Morris’ entanglements with Sherry Rowlands. What got lost among the more prurient aspects of the case was Morris’ characterization of Clinton to Rowlands. Morris called him “the monster” and said that he had no empathy and no common sense, two things sociopaths notoriously lack. Morris has also been quoted as saying, “Hillary loves Bill, and Bill loves Bill. It gives them something in common.” (It also gives Bill something in common with his sociopathic brethren.)
Clinton is corrupt. Hillary’s infamous cattle trading futures profits (courtesy of Tyson Foods’ man at the exchange) were a bribe to Bill, not to Hillary. It was Governor Clinton, not his wife, who had the power to -- and did -- pass legislation favorable to Tyson, laws which allowed Tyson to pollute lakes and streams with impunity and to drive oversize trucks through the state. (This from a man who advertised himself as an environmentalist.) Prosecutors were unable to prove it a bribe, but it stretches credulity to think that Hillary actually studied cattle futures on her own, then turned a $1000 stake into $100,000, then just as suddenly decided to quit. (Why not turn the $100,000 into ten million?) Regarding Whitewater, it seems reasonable to assume that a man who would accept a bribe to poison his home state’s waterways would certainly not be above accepting a sweetheart real estate deal.
Jim McDougal, in his book “Arkansas Mischief,” said that he regularly gave cash to Governor Clinton (a charge Clinton denies). He characterized Clinton as a man who succeeded by promising everything to everyone (a typical sociopathic trait). McDougal also says that he accidentally discovered that Clinton had an affair with his wife Susan (which she has denied).
Clinton is disloyal. The phrase “Friend of Bill,” heard so frequently during his first term, seemed to have fallen out of favor by his second, given its by then ominous implications. The list of people whom Clinton dropped when politically expedient is much longer than the list of aides who managed to last for his entire administration. The moment nominees or advisers became tainted, he dropped them quicker than you could say “Nannygate.”
Another sociopath trait Clinton exhibited is minimal impulse control. According to inside accounts at the White House, Clinton had little control over his temper. (George Stephanopoulos, a dedicated aide during Clinton’s first term, is said to have left in part because he tired of being Clinton’s whipping boy.)
People become addicts because they can’t control their impulse for immediate gratification. Clinton reportedly at one point had a cocaine habit. The November 1996 issue of The American Spectator listed several witnesses to Clinton’s cocaine use, and speculated that this was why he would not release his medical records. A woman who lived next door to Roger Clinton said she heard Bill Clinton comment on the quality of the cocaine he snorted several times. Roger Clinton has been tape-recorded saying that Bill had “a nose like a vacuum cleaner.” Asharlene Wilson, who has been convicted of drug violations, testified that she had personally witnessed Clinton take cocaine at least twenty times. When The American Spectator tried to investigate rumors of a Clinton hospitalization for an overdose in the aftermath of his gubernatorial defeat in 1980, the woman at the University of Arkansas Medical Center, rather than deny it, said she couldn’t talk about it or would get into trouble. Despite his personal involvement, Governor Clinton later had his brother Roger arrested for possession.
“I think we’re all addicted to something,” Clinton told an interviewer in the 1980s, according to his biographer David Maraniss. “Some people are addicted to drugs. Some to power. Some to food. Some to sex. We’re all addicted to something.” Having been addicted to all four, Clinton knew of what he spoke.
Clinton’s character is also demonstrated by his sense of entitlement. Remember that infamous haircut by Christophe? President Clinton decided to have a trim aboard Air Force One while on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport, delaying the other planes for over an hour. Hundreds of other passengers waited so that Clinton could satisfy his vanity; this is not the choice of a man burdened with a sense of shame.
Clinton’s most highly publicized weakness, of course, has been women. Imagine for a moment that Paula Jones’ allegations were true. (She did tell two different people about the incident within an hour of its occurrence.) What kind of man approaches a woman he barely knows by dropping his pants, pulling out his genitals, and asking for oral sex?
While the fact of Clinton’s affairs is not necessarily indicative of bad character, the way he handled the Lewinsky coverup exudes sociopathy. His reaction to the initial accusations was very telling. Clinton stood at the podium wagging his finger at the press, jut-jawed, saying with all the righteous fury of a wrongly accused innocent, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
Clinton even lied to those closest to him about Monica. According to Gail Sheehy in the February 1999 Vanity Fair, he told adviser Sidney Blumenthal that she had come on to him, but he had told her he couldn’t have sex. “I’ve gone down that road before,” said Clinton. “I’ve caused pain for a lot of people and I’m not going to do that again.”
Clinton went on to describe how he had tried to help, in his word, the “troubled” young girl. (It would be one thing to simply deny the charges; but a sociopath must take it one step further, and claim he is doing good.) Hillary herself told the press that the President had been “ministering” to Monica. When the evidence of Clinton’s semen on Monica’s dress came to light, he was caught red-handed (but not red-faced; he is incapable of embarrassment).
Clinton’s claim that oral sex isn’t really sex was a national joke for several weeks. But Clinton didn’t mean it as a joke, and it is exactly the type of facile justification that sociopaths specialize in.
Monica, in her testimony, characterized her relationship with the President as casual sex that turned into friendship; the President characterized it as a “friendship” that spun out of control, as if his initial interest in her were purely nonsexual. This is a common sociopathic lie, to paint a picture of “friendship” that rings hollow.
Monica later said that when she asked Clinton if their affair were merely about sex, “he started to tear up and told me he never wanted me to think that.” When she told him she loved him, he told her, “That means a lot to me.” (Surprising that the opinion of a “troubled” girl would mean so much.)
Clinton’s most shameless manipulation of Monica came when he implied to her that they had a future together. On one occasion, Clinton told Monica that he “might be alone in three years.” Then he asked her, “What will we do when I’m 75 and have to pee 25 times a day?” (Since, according to Clinton, their relationship wasn’t purely sexual, it is curious that he would worry about their “future” in those terms.)
When Monica expressed concern to Clinton that he was more interested in Kathleen Willey than in her, he told Monica that Willey’s breasts weren’t large enough to provoke his interest. With this one statement Clinton managed simultaneously to flatter Monica, lie to her, and insult Willey for her physical attributes, a neat sociopathic hat trick. (Remember, this is the same man who fired Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders for having mentioned masturbation while discussing sexual health with adolescents, and decreed that unmarried donors not be allowed to sleep together in the Lincoln Bedroom.)
Monica also said that Clinton told her that “beginning in third grade there were two Bill Clinton’s -- the good boy and the secret boy.” This sounds almost schizoid on the surface, but in fact is just a typically sociopathic way of separating oneself from one’s bad actions.
Then, on August 17, 1998, came Clinton’s famous nonapology to the nation in which he manfully claimed “full responsibility” for his actions, but then essentially absolved himself from blame. He mentioned that his earlier denials of sex with Lewinsky were “technically correct,” which even his most ardent defenders described as a “lawyerly evasion” (read: lie). Then Clinton lambasted Ken Starr for going after him. Clinton often criticized Starr for the time and money that were put into the investigation; but Clinton could easily have saved the taxpayers that time and money by not stonewalling from the start (after having promised the public “more rather than less, sooner rather than later.”)
Ken Starr obviously recognized Clinton as a corrupt, dishonest, manipulative user who’d gotten away with a lot; yet Starr was unable to make any of the original Whitewater charges stick because of mute (or dead) witnesses and missing files. So, in the manner of Eliot Ness going after Al Capone on income tax evasion, Starr settled for nailing his man on a lesser charge (the Jones/Lewinsky matters).
On October 7th, Clinton announced publicly that the House members should “cast a vote of conscience” on the Republican-written impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile the White House worked hard behind the scenes to pressure Congressional Democrats to vote for a more limited investigation.
Shortly after the impeachment Clinton was asked at a press conference if he felt persecuted, as if there were a conspiracy against him. He responded with what he said was one of his favorite jokes: a man is walking along the rim of the Grand Canyon and falls over a cliff. He sees a twig and grabs it, but then the twig starts to come out by the roots. He then looks up above, and says, “God, why me?” God responds, “I don’t know, there’s just something about you I don’t like.” By this point Clinton had already blamed his troubles on a right wing conspiracy, an overzealous prosecutor, and a troubled young girl. Why not a God who didn’t like him?
It is testimony to Clinton’s character that when he bombed the Sudan and Afghanistan in the fall of 1998, many wondered if he were just trying to deflect attention from the Lewinsky matter. The strikes were ostensibly aimed at Osama bin Laden, who at that point was known primarily as the man behind the bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania weeks earlier. But as time went on it became increasingly apparent that the bombed plant in the Sudan was devoted to making pharmaceuticals rather than chemical weapons, as originally claimed.
Clinton’s public pronouncement after the strike was that he stayed awake “till 2:30 in the morning trying to make absolutely sure that at that chemical plant there was no night shift. I didn’t want some person who was a nobody to me, but who may have a family to feed and a life to live, and probably had no earthly idea what else was going on there, to die needlessly.” Noble words. But they weren’t quite original. About eight months before the bombing, the movie “The American President” came out. It was an extremely sympathetic portrayal of a Democratic President and widower (played by Michael Douglas) whose affair with an environmental lobbyist (played by Annette Bening) creates a mini-scandal which his loathsome Republican opponent tries to make an issue of. It is hard to believe that Clinton would not have seen this movie, which was partially shot in Washington D.C. In any case, at one point in the movie President Douglas must make the decision whether to bomb Tripoli. Late at night, a grim-faced Douglas asks the assembled military brass, “How many people are working in the damn building? The fewest -- what shift has the fewest people? The night shift, right? When are they on?” He then gives the go-ahead for the bombing. Later that night, in the small hours of the morning, when an adviser tells him the bombing will make him look Presidential, Douglas solemnly responds, “What I did tonight was not about political gain. Somewhere in Libya right now, a janitor is working the night shift at Libyan intelligence headquarters. He’s going about doing his job ‘cause he has no idea in an about an hour he’s going to die in a massive explosion. He’s just going about his job because he has no idea that about an hour ago I have an order to have him killed.” Sound familiar? Now ask yourself: was Clinton motivated more by genuine concern for the folks on the night shift, or by a desire to come across like the American President?
Senator Joseph Biden was widely mocked when it turned out he had plagiarized Labor leader Neil Kinnock’s speech about his ancestors in the coal mines. (Of course, it was easy to prove Biden’s ancestor’s weren’t miners, whereas it would be impossible to prove Clinton wasn’t up until 2:30AM thinking about the night shift.) Clinton’s speech may not cleave close enough to President Douglas’ to qualify technically as plagiarism, but it does seem screenwriter Aaron Sorkin should have received at least partial credit for his words.
Clinton left the White House the same way he occupied it, embroiled in another scandal. On the last day of his Presidency Clinton issued more than 170 Presidential pardons, for tax evaders, drug dealers, swindlers, and terrorists, among others. The most widely publicized pardon went to Marc Rich, the convicted fugitive financier who underreported his taxes by fifty million dollars and violated the US ban on trade with Iran. His ex-wife Denise Rich gave over a million dollars to various Clinton causes including his Presidential Library and lobbied strongly for his release. Hugh Rodham, Hillary’s brother, took hundreds of thousands of dollars from both drug dealer Carlos Vignali and swindler Glenn Braswell, both of whom Clinton pardoned. In March of 2002 the House Government Reform Committee released a report on these pardons which it titled “Justice Undone: Clemency Decisions in the Clinton White House.”
Perhaps the essential question to ask is, can you picture Clinton sitting in the White House, head in hands, mortified over one of his moral slips? It’s easy to imagine him angry at Ken Starr, or frustrated at his negative press; but hard to imagine him feeling ashamed. This is the key to his character. People who handle stress well, people who weather personal scandal with aplomb, are often said to be able to “compartmentalize” their lives. (Clinton’s mother Virginia Kelley actually claimed in her memoir that she taught her sons to do this.) What this phrase means, essentially, is that these people don’t let such things faze them. But isn’t this the essence of sociopathy, to be unbothered by any sense of guilt, shame, or responsibility? This is why Clinton was able to present such a strong, smiling face to the world the morning after his impeachment; this is why he is able to lie with such seeming conviction.
Contrast Clinton’s demeanor in the middle of his impeachment to Richard Nixon’s. Nixon, who was later described by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as “a basket case” at the time of the Watergate hearings, finally resigned in August 1974 rather than face the shame of impeachment. Clinton’s State of the Union speech in January 1999 was completely different. Clinton strode into the Senate beaming, shaking hands jovially, head high, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. During the speech itself he came across empathetic, sincere, caring, humorous, and determined. The greatest stage actor, given the luxury of ten takes, could not have done better. There was no sense of sheepishness, no sense of being troubled by the impeachment; make no mistake, it was his sociopathy that allowed him to deliver such a magnificent performance.
Sociopathy does run in families, and Clinton’s family background is certainly dysfunctional enough. His stepfather, Roger Clinton, was an alcoholic who physically abused Clinton’s mother. Strangely, Clinton, born William Jefferson Blythe III, took his stepfather’s name after his mother had divorced the man, despite the fact that Roger had refused to legally adopt him.
Clinton’s mother, the late Virginia Kelley, was described as “an Arkansas original.” This is a nice spin on a woman who had scant control over her various appetites. She loved to smoke, drink, and gamble. And, in her words, she “loved men.” Clinton is truly his mother’s son.
The question is, who is Clinton’s father? William Blythe, the traveling salesman (and accused bigamist) whom Virginia Kelley claimed was Clinton’s father, died in a car accident in May 1946, three months before Clinton was born. That much is not in dispute. The problem is that nine months before Clinton was born, Blythe was serving his country in Italy. When this information surfaced after Clinton was elected President, Kelley said that Clinton’s birth was induced a month early because of a fall she had taken. In her 1994 memoir, however, she never mentioned this. And Clinton weighed eight and a half pounds at birth, a weight almost never reached by premature infants. Not knowing who one’s father is can have a devastating effect on a young boy’s psyche. One certainly cannot blame Clinton for the confusion surrounding his paternity; but then neither can one blame Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, or David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam) for the confusion surrounding theirs. And such backgrounds do tend to be fertile soil for sociopathy.
Jeffrey Toobin wrote an article in the July 6, 1998 New Yorker in which he quoted Linda Bloodworth Thomason: “For as long as I have known the President, he has been extraordinary in his devotion to winning over the most negative person in the room.” (Since Thomason is a Clinton ally, it is reasonable to assume she meant this in a positive way.) Virginia Kelley herself said in her memoirs that if she or either of her sons were at a party with ninety-nine people who liked them and one who didn’t, they would spend the evening attempting to win that person over. This sounds like an affect-hungry sociopath’s description of affect-hungry sociopathy. What better job for such a person than the Presidency?
Jonathan Alter wrote an article in the February 2, 1998 issue of Newsweek entitled “Clinton on the Couch: Why would he risk it all for a little sex with an intern? Look to his biography -- and biology.” Alter states that Clinton was teased for being fat as a kid, then quotes Ben Stein: “He is remedying an early deficit in female attention. Like all childhood deficits, it can never be filled.” Stein is implying that Clinton is making up for a lack of admiration from female classmates. Stein is partially right -- Clinton did suffer from a deficit in female attention during his formative years -- but it was from his mother. As an addict herself, Virginia Kelley was probably emotionally unavailable for her sons; that would certainly explain their later behavior. (Remember, the difference between Bill and his half-brother Roger is IQ, not character.) The tone of Alter’s article seems to imply that Clinton is a good man who has been brought low by this isolated flaw. But the flaws of a sociopath are never isolated.
In the same spirit, it was often said that Clinton had a “zipper problem,” as if his flaw were sartorial in nature. But his entire personality is irrepressibly unzipped: not only can he not tie himself down to his marriage, he can’t button his mouth, he can’t rein in his anger, he couldn’t even stay tethered to one stand on a political issue.
The New York Times, endorsing Clinton for the 1996 election, stated that he could resolve the “character issue” which had dogged him through his first term by standing firm on his core liberal beliefs and not waffling on policy. This is ridiculous. Sociopathy, or the lack thereof, is not demonstrated by one’s political stance. It is demonstrated by the pattern of one’s personal behavior. Another Times editorial once mentioned Clinton’s “mysterious passion for lying.” This passion is mysterious only if you don’t understand sociopathy.
Many seem to think that Clinton’s waffling was a result of agonizing over the heart-wrenching choices he had to make, that he was torn because he wanted so badly to do the right thing. In fact, it was more a matter of following shifting polls and telling whichever audience he was addressing at the time whatever they wanted to hear.
Maureen Dowd offered a particularly telling comment on Clinton’s hypocrisy after both Bill and Hillary had objected to their daughter Chelsea being depicted in a (positive) cover article in People magazine: “As he huffily demands that one young woman be protected from the media monster, he did not hesitate to let another young woman [Monica] be devoured by it.” (The New York Times, February 7, 1999.)
Bob Woodward wrote a book, “The Choice”, in which he characterized Clinton’s thinking this way: “Part of him yearned for an obvious call to action or even a crisis. He was looking for that extraordinary challenge which he could define and then rally people to the cause. He wanted to find that galvanizing moment. ‘I would have much preferred being President during World War II,’ he said one night in January 1995. ‘I’m a person out of my time.’” What kind of vanity must one possess to wish a world war upon his country merely in order to look more heroic, and perhaps be treated better by the history books?
David Brooks wrote an editorial in the September 3, 1998 USA Today in which he highlighted Clinton’s moral vanity: “Many politicians are self-righteous, but Clinton possesses the trait in pure form…..Clinton talks as if he were the embodiment of virtue. Anything done on his behalf, no matter how sleazy or deceptive, is done in the name of virtue and therefore virtuous…..‘I’ve tried to do a good job of taking care of this country, even when I haven’t taken such good care of myself and my family,’ he said at one point. As if his problem were that he isn’t selfish enough.” Moral vanity is one of the hallmarks of sociopathy; a sense of irony is not.
David Maraniss, a journalist for The Washington Post, wrote a series of articles about Clinton the candidate back in 1992 that glowed with admiration for his empathy, openness, and close friendships. In 1995, Maraniss’s book “First in His Class” presented a more mixed view of Clinton. By this point Maraniss recognized the blind ambition and duplicitousness behind the façade. In 1998, Maraniss wrote a book entitled “The Clinton Enigma: A Four-and-a-Half Minute Speech That Reveals This President’s Entire Life” (a reference to the Clinton nonapology of August 17th). As the title indicates, by this point Maraniss was thoroughly disenchanted. He called Clinton “a dissembler” and “one man darkness unit,” and “a personality that explained and rationalized compulsively.” Maraniss said Clinton had a “lack of normal standards of self-control,” and was “incapable of learning and changing.” All phrases that are code for sociopathy. That Maraniss could be so taken with Clinton in 1992 demonstrates just how successfully charismatic and manipulative a sociopath can be; Maraniss’s eventual disillusionment is also typical.
During Clinton’s second term, polls showed 70% of the electorate thought Clinton was a liar. Some Clinton defenders tried to claim the moral high ground by saying that those who detested Clinton were “haters.” But hatred is a natural reaction to incessant dishonesty and insincerity, and is itself no indication of character fault unless directed at a wide range of people.
It is hard to accept that a recent President of the United States is in fact a sociopath, with the same basic mindset as all those infamous serial killers. But Clinton is, and unmistakably so.
Abraham Lincoln, arguably our greatest President, is said to have remarked that you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Bill Clinton, arguably our most sociopathic, devoted his Presidency to trying to disprove that theorem.