Animal House

Camille Paglia comments on the "Animal House" atmosphere of the Clinton White House

Published January 22, 1998 7:43PM (EST)

People are alleging that the president is a sex addict -- is this true?

First of all, I want to get on the record that I am a Clinton supporter
in political terms. But I was probably the only leading
feminist to have believed Paula Jones right from the start -- from the
very moment she emerged in 1994. I felt that the charges that Anita Hill made
were far less grave than the ones Paula Jones made against Clinton.

I'm in no way shocked by the latest allegations, but it's
pretty clear to me as a theorist of sex that Clinton has more of a
mother problem than a woman problem. I feel it's not a conventional
sex addiction per se. But from his youth in the matriarchal domestic
womb of his very powerful mother figure, Clinton has apparently had
problems separating his own identity from that of women. So he has this
split -- it's very close to a Madonna-whore split -- between the
intelligent woman, the woman who is an equal of his brain and of his
political instinct, and the objects of his carnality, which he seems unable to
except toward slutty types or toward those in some vulnerable, dependent

What we're seeing here is an odd continuation of the
Michael Kennedy case with the baby sitter. I think the baby
sitter became more attractive to Michael Kennedy because she was part
of the domestic unit. She was just another egg in the maternal nest! It's
almost an incestuous pattern. Similarly here: I just don't
understand it when you have a man who is the leader of the free world,
who has access to so many women -- they're in the tens of thousands out
there! --
who'd be delighted to have an affair with him, why he'd have to create a
situation where there's a potential charge of sexual harassment. Why
couldn't Clinton adopt the European standard of sophistication -- as with
Prince Charles and the French prime ministers -- where you have discreet
liaisons with women who know how to keep their mouths shut? And Clinton is
someone who has always been on the right side in feminist issues. The point
is this girl was available, she was there, she was an adjunct to the domestic
nest! The Oval Office, after all, is one big egg, isn't it?

Here's the thing: Clinton's a workaholic. He does
deserve credit for the fact that he's nothing but business and has
performed indefatigably day after day, month after month. This is the excuse
he was trying to make yesterday -- "I have to get back to the mission for
the American people elected me." He's trying to use this as a
kind of shield. His workaholism really became a problem for his sex
life. He rarely takes a vacation. He hardly visits Camp David. He
never gets out of the White House in Washington, even to go to parties on the
Georgetown scene -- we all know the Clintons' shunning of that scene, to Sally
Quinn's ire! There was never opportunity for the kind of spontaneous, fun
that can occur in an upstairs bedroom on top of a pile of mink coats on a bed
in the middle of a party -- where you're not bringing sexual pressure to bear
in your
own hierarchical office environment. It's really Clinton's workaholism that
led to this lapse in judgment.

Look at the Kennedys, for heaven's sake! We've got Ted Kennedy
allegedly able to have liaisons with women in cigarette boats off the coast of
Monte Carlo, on the floor of Washington restaurants, any place, any time! You
get a Kennedy near a warm body, and it's a sexual opportunity! But while
Clinton has always been desperately trying to model himself on JFK, he lacked
JFK's savoir faire and worldliness. Basically Clinton's a homeboy. He wants
to make everything into Little Rock again where there's one big clan of good
ol' boys hanging
around, shooting the breeze.

Clinton seems to favor a certain type of woman.

It's pretty clear that Gennifer Flowers was a sensualized version of
Hillary. Or perhaps we should put it in reverse: Hillary slowly
remodeled herself on the blond archetype of Gennifer Flowers. If you look
at pictures of the early dowdy Hillary, when she first arrived in Little Rock,
she sure didn't look at all like Gennifer Flowers! So Hillary's really
transformed herself.

I've gotten in a lot of trouble in my career talking about Hillary
Clinton's frigidity as a personality and how our generation of career women
(she and I are the exact same age) have had trouble reconciling
our ambitious side with our sexual side. I think that she's a kind of
refrigerator at home, and that for warm, tender, accepting embraces Clinton has
really had to go outside his marriage. In no way is Hillary an all-forgiving
mother figure. She's really his severest critic, and he's needed her every step
of the way in his career. She provides the discipline.

One reason I believed the Paula Jones story right from the start was because
of the allegation that he demanded oral sex from her. Based on my long
study of pornographic pictures and videos, I can easily
see why Paula Jones would instantly produce a fantasy of oral sex.
People kept saying, very ignorantly, "Oh, she's not very attractive -- what
would he have seen in her?" Well, I can see very clearly she has this big
wide mouth, and a lot of teeth, and there's a sort of slackness about her
jaw -- which is what women porn stars develop when they learn how to relax
their jaw muscles to perform great oral sex. I think that Paula Jones
was at every stage a walking, talking advertisement for oral sex!
So I was stunned when I first saw the pictures of Monica Lewinsky on
every TV program -- the big wide smile, the nicely relaxed lips
with all those teeth -- and I thought, Oh my God, here we go again! We heard
years ago that Clinton seemed to believe that he was never unfaithful to
his wife as long as he just having oral sex. I think that's what he wanted
from Paula Jones and that's what was going on here. In his
own mind, he really believes, "I'm not doing anything wrong. All we were doing
was having a little fun." He was being sexually serviced during his busy day.

Do you think Clinton will recover from this crisis?

I think the Clintons have shown monumental inability to handle
crises. It's really Hillary who's been pushing this strategy of stonewalling
right from the start. On every issue, every controversy,
it might have been Clinton's impulse just to give in -- he wants so much to be
liked. This Paula Jones situation should have
been settled out of court a long time ago. But from what one has heard, it was
Hillary who rigidly refused any kind of compromise. That terrible misjudgment
has led directly to
this scandal. Because if Clinton hadn't walked into his lawyer's office
last weekend and apparently denied under oath all these many allegations of
sexual misconduct, we wouldn't be talking today about impeachable
offenses. You could impugn his judgment, but there was nothing indictable
about it.

I find very interesting the terminology being used this past week by Hillary
and now by Clinton himself. When Hillary was asked how she was handling all
this controversy over the Paula Jones case, she said, "I just put
it in a little box. That's how I deal with it. I put it in a box in my
mind and I just don't think about it." And then yesterday
Clinton picked that image up. I was struck by it. Of course the word box is
a slang word for vagina! The first time I became aware of that was
when I was in college listening to the great Doors song, "20th Century Fox":
"She's got the world locked up inside her plastic box." There it is:
Hillary's steel-vault box is her steel-trap mind! She also views the White
like a fortress, like a citadel, and she locks out everyone outside of

If the Clintons simply had a more rational, more cordial social life with
the greater world, if Clinton had followed his natural gregariousness
as opposed to her suspiciousness -- which of course he needs in many ways --
then I think
that these scandals wouldn't be happening. He's been starved for sensual
companionship. He would have loved to carry on like JFK in
the White House: Remember "Fiddle and Faddle" -- the secretaries on call
to service JFK? But JFK could carry it off. It was also a different
period as well. JFK had all kinds of sophisticated contacts in the greater
world -- in Hollywood and so on.

By the way, when the scandal with the Lincoln Bedroom broke, I
immediately became suspicious about what Clinton was doing with his
time. Up to that point, I'd been publicly saying, "Oh, Clinton is clearly
following the straight and narrow, he's really cleaned up his act." But
the moment I heard that the Lincoln Bedroom had become a
revolving door for power brokers and people from Hollywood, I said, I'll bet
Clinton has been having flings with women in the Lincoln
Bedroom! And I was amazed that the media never brought it up. No one
in the major media seemed to make the connection with sexual use of the
Lincoln Bedroom. They just said, "Oh, he just likes to have a
lot of guests in the house." Well for
heaven's sake, it's pretty obvious Hillary would go to sleep at a decent
hour, and there's all those stories about Clinton wandering into people's
rooms and
sitting and talking till 2 or 3 in the morning. People just laughed it off.

So I don't think his problem is sex addiction but just a
normal, rather immature man's desire to be petted.
He sure doesn't get the petting he needs from Hillary.
Hillary got him to the White House, but she doesn't pet him. The
moment his daughter is gone -- and here's one of his most shameless
appeals for popular approval -- out comes the dog! He even walked out with the
dog yesterday. That's the most pathetic part of this. He's desperate
for a woman who will pet him and instead he gets a dog!

You've commented in a Salon column that Clinton shouldn't be judged by conventional moral standards. Do you still think so?

My attitude is, I don't care what men or women in public office do in
their private life. As a strict libertarian, I believe that's entirely
their own business. But what we don't want is a kind of mixing up of the
private with the public. Therefore if you're in a position of
leadership, you shouldn't be having affairs with your subordinates. If
you're in a position of public trust, you should respect the dignity of
the White House. JFK certainly did not do that. We're learning that he
did not behave in a dignified manner. You can say a lot of bad things
about Nixon -- he was a cold fish and certainly wasn't having affairs
with anyone -- but he always dressed formally with his tie and jacket on in the
White House. He'd never take his jacket off at work -- the same with Reagan --
of great respect for the building and its history and its high standing as a
symbol of American democracy.

All these allegations about Clinton bring the White House
down to the level of a frat house -- there's an "Animal House" quality here.
Even the Secret Service men were apparently put off by the Clinton crowd's
behavior in the White House. It's been alleged that Hillary's
foul-mouthed cursing at Clinton in the hallways of the White House was
not taken well either by the Secret Service. I think there's been a kind
of disrespect from the Clintons right from the start.

In general I subscribe to the European model of life. I believe it is in our
interest to be realistic about sexuality. This American insistence that
we must always have a good "family man" in leadership positions is not
realistic. A man of power is going to be a man of very high sexual
energy. I want that kind of a man. I want a Clinton more than I want a
Nixon. I don't want a cold fish! I want someone in the White House who would
love to have sex with 10 different people in three days. That doesn't bother
me in the least!

What does bother me is lying. I cannot stand lying. To me it's not that
he's a sex addict. It's that he's a liar! I don't want to be lied to. I
think there's got to be a better way to handle tacky crises. If
you've made a mistake, admit it! Take the consequences and move on. But it's
infuriating that he seems to live in this fantasy world. He thinks he's the
aw-shucks naughty boy that women will always forgive because he's
so charming.

If Clinton falls as a result of this scandal, how will he be remembered?

People often wonder why the American public constantly forgives Clinton.
I believe that he's a genuinely telegenic politician who is a very
gifted personality. I believe he really does feel people's pain! I think
he has genuine compassion, even though he's also a very shrewd political
strategist too. But if he's addicted to anything, it really is to
instant gratification, to the life of the senses. His identity is almost too porous -- it's as if he suffers a weird emotional
leakage toward women. And it's genuinely tragic, because I think with a little better judgment, his legacy -- particularly
reconciling the polarized extremes of liberalism and conservatism -- is a
very substantial one. But now these peccadilloes may overshadow it. I still
think that he will be remembered fondly even by those of us who are most
critical of his uncontrolled sex life.

By Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

MORE FROM Jenn Shreve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bill Clinton Camille Paglia Hillary Rodham Clinton