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Frankel, J. (2000). Who to Be or Not to Be? Commentary on Papers on President Clinton's Impeachment. Psychoanal. Dial., 10(2):327-334.
(2000). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 10(2):327-334
Who to Be or Not to Be? Commentary on Papers on President Clinton's Impeachment
Jay Frankel, Ph.D.
We have been treated to a panel of brief, interesting, and very different papers, all taking as a starting point the events surrounding the impeachment of President Clinton. These papers take off in diverging directions, using these events to explore the dynamics of hypocrisy (Rangell), particular varieties of individual pathology (Bloland, Orfanos), social pathology (Chasseguet-Smirgel, Orfanos), the nature of leadership and the relation of leaders to society (Blackwell, Samuels, Šebek, Žižek), and the nature and effects of power (Berenstein, Bloland). We owe the president thanks for serving, if only unwittingly and unhappily, as a foil for these various explorations.
Here I shall describe how, despite the different directions in which these papers go, there may be an underlying set of concerns that unifies them—a set of concerns that will force us to consider how we expect ourselves and our fellows to behave in our dealings with other people. First, though, I take these papers on their own terms. Bloland, and to a lesser extent Orfanos, takes a diagnostic approach, seeing Clinton as an example of a person with a particular kind of individual pathology—the pathology inherent in great ambition. Along similar lines, though Berenstein does not diagnose Clinton, he discusses how power can corrupt human relationships, and he makes the extraordinary observation that often someone who exercises power does not realize he or she is doing so.
The authors who diagnose Clinton take a risk, speculating beyond what they know about him. As Berenstein, Blackwell, and Šebek remind us, Clinton is not our patient; we know him only as a persona.
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