Why Clinton Screws Around

A cheat sheet for the news.
Feb. 1 1998 3:30 AM

Why Clinton Screws Around

Asking why President Clinton would have sex with all the women he is alleged to have had sex with is like asking why a hungry man would want to eat. How many 50-year-old men would refuse oral service from attractive 21-year-olds if they could get away with it? Yet Clinton's circumstances are a little different: Every indiscretion puts his presidency at stake. Here's a roundup of the top theories on why Clinton would sleep around.

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1 He's "Schmucko." According to this theory, the affair exposes Clinton's legendary capacity for empathy as a front for his fundamental rottenness. "He has a bad habit of using people and discarding them" (Gloria Borger, U.S. News & World Report). Meanwhile, right-wing conspiracy theorists, like the British reporter Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, gloat that they have sounded the alarm about Clinton's basic wickedness (Whitewater, the Vince Foster murder, etc.) from the start. (See Slate's "International Papers" for Evans-Pritchard's latest.)

2 He's psycho. The Wall Street Journal editorial page speculated that the president suffers from an "anti-social personality disorder," before concluding that "in Mr. Clinton's case a strict diagnosis does not hold." Clinton has no compunction about his multiple sexual relations or the lies he tells about them. Like a serial killer, he's so self-obsessed that he's lost his sense of shame and can't comprehend his culture's mores.

3He's stupid. Disappointed Clinton supporters embrace this argument. His rampant infidelity is caused by his idiocy. "Anyone who is that dumb should obviously not be President of the United States" (Russell Baker, the New York Times).

4 He's a misogynist. Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, William Ginsburg, advances this view, as do several right-wing women. Seeing women as sex objects, Clinton has no qualms about coercing and bribing them into servicing him. Thus, goes this theory, he sexually harasses women who work for him (Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey), trades jobs for sex (Gennifer Flowers), and has affairs with subordinates (Lewinsky).

5 He's a sexaholic. The American Psychiatric Association doesn't classify sex addiction as a medical condition, but that doesn't prevent the pundits from making the diagnosis. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter blames Clinton's alleged sexcapades on the rush that some addictive personalities experience from the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine during sex. The NewYorkPost reports a Lewinsky claim that the president boasted of bedding hundreds of women over the course of his marriage. If this is true, he's either a Don Juan or a sex maniac. It would also explain why he (allegedly) falls back on phone sex when he can't have the real thing. The president's family tends toward addictive behavior. Mother Virginia Kelley loved gambling, brother Roger got hooked on coke, and grandmother Edith had a morphine problem. Corollary theory: The risks of getting caught with Lewinsky added to the thrill and kept him coming back for more. Alter says that he may even "get off on" the "brush[es] with political death" that his adultery precipitates.

6 He's self-deluded. Or, as Monica Lewinsky put it, he's "in denial." Some say Clinton learned to compartmentalize misdeeds in his Hot Springs, Ark., childhood. Many of his neighbors were devout Baptists despite running the resort town's illegal gambling industry--the largest in the South. His mother also admitted to habitually blocking out problems by denying their existence.

7 He learned it in Arkansas. According to biographer David Maraniss, Clinton picked up his promiscuous ways early from Hot Springs' men, who "got away with whatever they wanted to." Clinton also picked up lax attitudes about sex from his mother, who dressed provocatively in short shorts and tube tops, and his biological father, allegedly a bigamist.

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8 He needs love. Another wounded-child theory. Clinton craves the affection that his abusive, alcoholic stepfather and abused, fun-loving mother didn't provide him as a child. This explains his love of campaigning and his wishy-washy, please-everyone political agenda, as well as his many girlfriends. An Oedipal permutation of this theory blames his affairs specifically on an early deficit of motherly attention and notes that many of his alleged lovers bear a resemblance to Virginia.

9 He's a hippie in a suit. Some conservatives, including reporters at the New York Post and Washington Times, blame Clinton's philandering on the '60s free-love attitudes he adopted as an anti-war radical and never jettisoned.

10 He's a boy-man. He remains the kid in the candy store, without control over his appetites for sex and food. Time's Lance Morrow says Clinton constantly pushes the envelope to see what he can get away with, like a 2-year-old who "tests the limits of his independence by toddling off."

11 This is a midlife crisis. Instead of buying a motorcycle or taking up bungee-jumping, the graying Clinton paired off with a 21-year-old to affirm his youth and virility.

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1 2 The Clintons' is a marriage of convenience. There are several versions of this: 1) Hillary knows her husband is a sexaholic but overlooks his infidelity to advance her own political career. 2) Hillary is a prude, forcing Clinton to satisfy his sexual needs elsewhere. 3) The Dick Morris angle: Hillary may not be "into regular sex with men," forcing Clinton to sate his sexual appetite elsewhere.

13 Presidents are egomaniacs. The best estimates are that 13 out of 42 presidents cheated on their wives. Presidents are surrounded by servile sycophants who convince them they are invincible and forgive their sins, and this paves the way for sexual affairs. Men of presidential quality tend to be arrogant, with a sense of "entitlement and lordly expectation" (David Remnick, The New Yorker). The best example of presidential bravura ever: When told of John F. Kennedy's womanizing, Lyndon Johnson responded, "God damn it, I had more women by accident than he ever had by design!"

14 Presidents are alpha male studs. Evolutionary psychologists explain presidential philandering as an atavistic impulse left over from the early days of the human race. Natural selection rewarded men who clawed their way to positions of power with many sex partners (i.e., gave them many chances to reproduce their genes). Proponents of this theory recall ancient rulers such as the Pharaoh Ramses II and Aztec King Nezahualpilli, both of whom sired more than 100 children. (Click here to read Robert Wright's explication.)

15 Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Women throw themselves at powerful men, and powerful men are too weak to resist. The star-struck Lewinsky appears to have instigated a relationship with Clinton. According to her friends, she had long fantasized about sleeping with the president in the Oval Office.

16 Miserable childhoods bring lovers together. This is the most pleasant spin on the whole affair, which ascribes no deviant intentions to the president or Lewinsky. They were simply two lonely souls who bonded over their shared experience of abusive parents. This theory initially emanated from the White House.

17We're his enablers. The public's capacity for forgiveness only encourages Clinton's rogue ways. We don't make him pay the price for his dalliances, thereby convincing him that the risk is worth it.

Franklin Foer is editor at large of the New Republic. He is the author of How Soccer Explains the World.

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