Sunday, April 06, 2008

Why Clinton Embellishes

We have three examples from recent days of Clinton's modifications of the truth.

Why do they matter? One might say that many politicians are prone to factual distortions.

What is of particular importance is not only that Clinton distorts the truth, but when she does--and why.

Clinton, as many who know her well and have studied her life closely have indicated, from Dee Dee Myers to Carl Bernstein, has a fundamental difficulty in revealing herself. She is seen by even those who are closest to her as perpetually standing behind a guise, ever prepared for the attack, a characteristic regarded as at times poignant, and at other times Nixonian in its manifestations.

We know from biographies of Clinton, including Bernstein's astute and perceptive "A Woman in Charge" that Clinton's suffered from a harsh and judgmental father, and that this relationship had a deep and significant shaping influence.

On the one hand, it prepared her (indeed, over-prepared her) for quick response, for an all-too-ready response to attack. Yet it also created, beneath the increasingly agile guises and forms of protection, a more fundamental experience of self--that despite the greatest efforts, the most agile displays, of never being quite good enough to measure up to his judgment.

This left her, as it leaves many in such circumstances, with a rueful admiration of and attachment to a seeming strength and sureness that she could never have; and underneath the formidably developed masks of intellect and defensive pretense, a fundamental fear of, in her true self, uncovered, falling short. Many have noted this quality in Clinton, and have drawn it back to this familial source.

As a consequence, beneath the feigned hardness, the feigned casualness, and beneath the years of powerfully developed yet defensively driven skills, there is a tragic, deep and, for a President, highly consequential flaw--one that is most likely to be relevant in those "3 a.m. moments" that she has so readily and repeatedly invoked.

One cannot respond with balance and wisdom from a guise. One's own judgment is critically affected by what one feels they must display (and truly cannot), and by what they believe that they must hide.

From such a position, the "other"--be it a colleague, opponent, or one's view of the "public" at large, is critically distorted. The other is not regarded as a fellow equal, with whom we are shouldering difficult tasks together, in order to determine a better future, but a threatening judge, to be managed and feared; whose response must be calculated to be met with the proper guise--one which must be quickly changed--or covered--if there is a danger that, beneath the mask, one will be found out.

What Clinton shares with other talented, tragic figures is a mistrust of humanity's judgment, and, as a result, an inability to meet them with the full, uncovered gaze of a developed and accepted self. The truth, within such an uncertain experience of self and the judgment of others, is often felt to be not enough.

This is what Obama, in this revolutionary moment, to a greater extent, has. This is what people are connecting with. And, in 3 a.m. moments, this is what we need.