Reliving The Psychodrama

Andrew Sullivan —  Mar 6 2008 @ 12:33pm

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It does not surprise me, to put it mildly, that even after their negative barrage against Obama prevented an end to the Clinton candidacy, her staffers are still bickering with one another. As a reader reminded me

It’s all there: the internecine ugliness; the backbiting; the blame-shifting; the inability to speak openly and honestly to the person in charge; the out-of-control spouse who requires designated handlers for damage-control.

It’s Bush-Cheney all over again, but less disciplined, more narcissistic, more cynical. And this campaign, in retrospect, has exhibited all these patterns. The press is marveling at the Clintons’ near-death political experiences in this campaign. Doesn’t it all feel creepily familiar? It’s funny, isn’t it, how these two characters, long steeped in politics as a way of life, still manage to create psychodramas on a regular basis. They both live to nearly fail completely, treating any sort of stable success as some kind of invitation to more risk-taking, and then always relishing the last-minute, nail-biting self-rescue. Before too long, the entire story becomes about them, their ability to triumph through crisis, even though the crises are so often manufactured by themselves. We are reliving the patterns of the 1990s again. Because they are now directing the drama.

Remember: Bill Clinton could have settled the Paula Jones lawsuit easily years before he put the entire country through the wringer. Remember: Hillary Clinton could have killed what turned out to be the Whitewater non-story at the very outset by disclosing everything she could. Remember: the Clintons could have prepared for primaries and caucuses after February 5, as any careful candidate would. They chose not to do any of these things. Not because they are incompetent. But because they live to risk.

They need the drama of crisis. We are learning that they have not changed – despite the ludicrous idea that Hillary Clinton is somehow more stable and reliable than Barack Obama. The same desperate need for attention by unconsciously seeking out near-disaster is with us again.

At the core of this is their totally dysfunctional relationship. We – even those like me who really do believe in the privacy of public figures – learned over eight years that you cannot ignore this dynamic, because they have put it into the center of the public square. That is why you can confidently predict that the marital dramas will not be over either. If you think there is not another sex scandal to drop, to create another psychodrama, you are a more hopeful person than I am. The Clinton pattern is to gain some momentum in the polls or the campaign before triggering such a scandal themselves. As soon as they feel success in their wings, they self-sabotage, because they need that kind of drama to have meaning. And the story is so compelling to by-standers – we are all rubber-neckers in the face of the car wreck that is the Clintons’ story – that we will be yanked around indefinitely by this crap. I can’t believe we are flirting with going through all this again and again and again.

These are not the 1990s any more. We are at war. The economy is teetering. We are sinking in the quicksand of the Middle East. We are at constant risk of a major terror attack. And, if given a chance to bathe in the spotlight again, the Clintons will make it all about them once more. They will create the kind of drama that we have already seen in this campaign – a constant flirtation with political death in order to keep the soap opera going.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we can afford another eight years of it.

(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty.)