As we revisit the exploits of Saturday Night Bill and listen to biographer Taylor Branch’s taped private rumination after his series of interviews with the former president, the obvious question arises: Was the 42nd president a sociopath?
Sociopaths are often characterized as people who lack a conscience and never feel remorse about their actions, even when they emotionally destroy other people. They don’t take responsibility for their behavior and blame others for whatever havoc they create. They are generally charming on the surface.
In all my years of dealing with Bill Clinton, I never heard him express the slightest twinge of regret or concern about the fate of women who had crossed his path. He would discuss the Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, or Monica Lewinsky “situation” as if it involved someone else, not him, and never reflected on the damage he had caused to another human being.
For example, as he was about to hang Flowers out to dry and portray her as a liar and stalker, we spoke by phone right before his Sixty Minutes interview. I recommended that he admit that he had made mistakes but recite the litany of other presidents who had not been faithful to their spouses and say that he hoped he could be as great a president as they were. His reply, coldly analytical and without emotion was “that’s great, but I’d have to find a new place to live.”
Whenever any of the women came up in our conversations, he would angrily swear that all the charges against him were untrue except those concerning Monica Lewinsky. Of those accusations, he said “I didn’t do what they said I did, but I may have done so much that I can’t prove my innocence.”
Because he had oral sex and not intercourse? How is that innocence when a 22 year old girl and a president of the United States are concerned? But, in his mind, the questions were legal, not moral, and that’s why the precise nature of the sex was important.
It was a strategy.
He once described to me how his HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros paid off a woman he was involved with. Bill was incredulous and contemptuous saying “and he told his wife about it!” Honesty! What a faux pas.
Betsey Wright, his erstwhile chief of staff delivered the coup de grace when she told me of a former roommate who returned after meeting with Bill during the 1992 campaign. Subjected to a lecture from the governor denouncing the “false” accusations of his philandering, he denied doing such things with such fervor that she told Betsey “I think he actually forgot that we had slept together.”
He dealt with his sex scandals as if they were happening to someone else who he barely knew but would, somehow, have to account for. He addressed the strategies to deal with them with the same acuity but with the same lack of personal emotional involvement that he would use in discussing budgetary tactics. Somebody else – his enemies – were always to blame.
I only saw Bill ashamed once — after his party lost Congress in 1994. He would often speak of how upset and ashamed he was over the many Congressmen who had fallen in the 1994 bi-election by following his policies and giving him their votes in the House. To them, he felt obligated and responsible. He felt their defeat was his fault. His normal, human reaction to the defeat of these young, idealistic representative contrasts with his total lack of empathy for the women whose lives he almost destroyed.
For them, he had only one reaction: Destroy them.
Is this behavior sociopathic? I’m no shrink. I don’t know. Do you?