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Clintons Need Counseling,
Not Political Sneers

By Jules Siegel
Friday, September 4, 1998

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/1998/09/04/ED65784.DTL

ALTHOUGH I WAS amused and touched by President Clinton's charming remarks on forgiveness, I think he's got to do more than talk to get it.

Like many another stalwart Democratic Clinton defender, I've accepted with very measured sympathy his legalistic excuses and what many people agree is his justifiable anger at the invasion of his personal privacy. According to the polls, most Americans don't want him to resign. We're relieved that Hillary is not packing her bags and that Chelsea holds his hand in public.

But how does he recapture the confidence required to resume leadership?

More importantly, how does he persuade Hillary and Chelsea that this will never happen again? It's their private dilemma, but as a nation, we're kind of in-laws in this matter. We have a right to butt in because the first family's turmoil is disrupting our political stability.

If we look at this as a family problem, his only real option is to seek marital or sexual counseling and then, maybe, make it a kind of crusade: ``I face my problems, world. I get help. That's no shame. Hillary and I are, after all, just another Baby Boomer couple struggling to make sense of our lives.''

This may provoke an ugly reaction from the narrow-minded prudes who make it impossible for our elected offi cials to obtain the psychological counseling they need.

After the discovery that Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern's 1972 vice-presidential running mate, had been treated for depression and received electroshock treatment, he was forced to withdraw. During the 1988 presidential campaign, supporters of Lyndon LaRouche circulated the false rumor that Michael Dukakis had been treated for depression. Fears of an Eagleton-style reaction are valid, but we've grown up since 1972. Shock therapy and sex therapy aren't quite the same.

We can't expect elected officials to be human robots. We elect them on the basis of their administrative skills, not their sexual preferences or conflicts. They are entitled to privacy and should be encouraged to seek therapy for personal problems.

Bill Clinton did lie. He could have gotten off of this a long time ago and saved us all a lot of grief. Why did he try so hard to cover his tracks?

Maybe he was so terrified of confronting his wife that he went through months of hell to avoid hurting her and facing her anguished wrath.

I don't think it's appropriate to make psychological judgments about people I've never met, but I'm sure that Hillary is quite formidable, possibly the only person who makes him tremble with fear. Moreover, if we see Clinton as this needy man looking for affirmation, his whole personality is thrown into relief and many otherwise inexplicable actions become easy to understand.

Most important of all, do we really want to throw him out because he failed us and his family in this way? It would be cheaper and healthier to try to fix him up. Writes Andrew Samuels, of the University of Essex, and author of ``The Political Psyche:"One of the values of psychotherapy, derived from the struggles that are experienced in therapy itself, is that it is possible to gather together the strength to push through the despair barrier and struggle on."

That's what we have to do as a nation and that's what the Clintons have to do as a family. Just the sense of public and personal relief and liberation will make the whole ordeal feel worthwhile.


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