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High Hopes

High Hopes: Bill Clinton and the Politics of Ambition

STANLEY A. RENSHON
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 416
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg13p
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    High Hopes
    Book Description:

    The Clinton presidency is pivotal, occurring at a particularly sensitive time in American and world history. The Cold War has ended; yet Americans face daunting social and economic problems and are increasingly divided about how to address them. In this perceptive psychological portrait of Clinton and his presidency, expert Stanley Renshon investigates whether Clinton has demonstrated the requisite qualities of judgment, vision, character, and skill to meet the challenges he faces, domestically and internationally, and whether he merits another term. Renshon incisively analyzes Clinton's sweeping ambitions, his enormous confidence in himself and his goals, and his success in convincing people that he genuinely cares about them. He reveals a Bill Clinton whose capacity for political success is often undermined by the very traits for which many praise him. His unusually high self-confidence, for instance, leads him to believe that he can accomplish what others have not, that he can, for instance, reconcile polar opposites such as liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. Remarkably persistent throughout Clinton's career are certain character traits which have defined him to the public--his tendency to make promises he can't keep, his ability to win people over in person, his sudden blind rages. Renshon traces the development of Clinton's character from his early family experiences to his highly successful adolescence and long political career. He illustrates how each step along the way--Clinton's inconsistent experiences as an adored but disregarded child, his attempt to avoid the draft and the consequences of doing so, his marriage to Hillary Rodham whose own psychology has both helped and hurt him, and his tenure as governor during which his character first became a political issue--is crucial to understanding his erratic and controversial presidency. Renshon explores the nature of the Clinton marriage as a political partnership and looks at Hillary Clinton as an associate president. High Hopes gives us a new understanding of why a man with so many talents has become a president whose performance has not measured up to his promise.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6942-3
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-16)

    This book’s title,High Hopes, refers to the public’s investment in the success of the Clinton presidency, an investment borne of increasing anxiety and mounting frustration with the American political process in the last few decades. ANew York Times/CBS News poll taken just before Clinton’s inauguration suggested that “Americans await Bill Clinton’s presidency with revived optimism about the nation and its economy and a pre-inaugural burst of confidence in him as an effective leader who cares about them” (Clymer 1993b). The phrase “high hopes” refers as well to Clinton’s own ambitions, and reminds us that presidential leadership is, in...

  6. PART I. PRESIDENTS, PSYCHOLOGY, AND THE PUBLIC
    • CHAPTER 1 PUBLIC PSYCHOLOGY: THE LEGACY OF HISTORY (pp. 19-34)

      The analysis of every presidency is a story consisting of four overlapping parts. First, it is the story of a particular historical context and political time. Second, it is a story that unfolds within a particular institutional setting, a presidency which has either been strengthened or weakened by the actions of those who have occupied the office in the past. Third, it is a story of the public and its psychology—how people feel about their institutions, their lives, and their prospects. Finally, it is a story whose central character is the president himself—with his abilities and limitations.

      Each...

  7. PART II. THE CHARACTER OF BILL CLINTON
    • CHAPTER 2 CHARACTER AND THE PRESIDENCY (pp. 37-50)

      At its center, the powers of the presidency are set into motion by its occupant. His goals, ideals, skills, judgments, and responses to circumstances drive and define his time in office.¹ Above all other psychological factors, it is character that shapes a presidency.

      President Clinton has conceptualized character as “a journey, not a destination” (Kelly 1995). It is, he says, a lifelong passage, always “in process.” In conceptualizing his character in this way, he makes both a plea and a point. His point is that character is neither static or frozen. His plea is that his political lapses and mistakes...

    • CHAPTER 3 AMBITION (pp. 51-68)

      President Clinton’s character has been as controversial as his administration. While his capacity to persist in the face of adversity is an important political asset derived from his character, the continuing questions about his integrity represent a character-based liability. His character was an important campaign issue in 1992 and will no doubt be critical in assessing his performance as president in 1996, and in calibrating his place in history.

      Clinton’s ambition has fueled questions about his character and integrity. His 1992 election as president is widely viewed as the culmination of his (and his wife Hillary’s) public ambitions. Many people...

    • CHAPTER 4 CHARACTER INTEGRITY (pp. 69-92)

      Character integrity lies at the core of presidential performance. Psychologically, character integrity reflects our fidelity to our own ideals as we pursue our ambitions and forge our identities. Politically, it is reflected not so much in where a president stands as in what he ultimately stands for. It is not only about his stated political goals, buthowhe chooses to accomplish them. While character integrity does not guarantee that a president will not make costly political and policy mistakes, its absence almost certainly guarantees that he will, especially in a political climate of public skepticism with government and leaders....

    • CHAPTER 5 RELATEDNESS (pp. 93-118)

      There have been few presidents for whom interpersonal relations have played such an important political and psychological role as they have for Bill Clinton. Some presidents have been more socially skilled than others, but the Clinton presidency is unique in its emphasis on interpersonal relations.

      In psychological theory, theaffiliation motiveis the most common way of examining a person’s connections to others. To be affiliated means to want to belong. People with affiliation motives tend to be joiners and to spend a lot of time in the company of others. Character theory, however, paints a more complex picture of...

    • CHAPTER 6 CHARACTER AND PRESIDENTIAL PSYCHOLOGY (pp. 119-142)

      A president’s psychology is not synonymous with his character. Each president has a number of personality traits that help to define him as a unique person. Some presidents are restless, others patient. Some are drawn to getting things done, others enjoy the ceremonial aspects of the role. Some seek out responsibility, others avoid it. Some traits are central to a president’s performance, others peripheral.

      In this chapter I identify those personality traits central to understanding Clinton’s approach to his presidency—those directly linked with his ambition, character integrity, and relatedness. Since character represents the foundation of a person’s overall psychological...

  8. PART III. GROWING UP, COMING OF AGE
    • CHAPTER 7 HIS MOTHER’S SON (pp. 145-165)

      An analysis of the Clinton family myth requires us to focus in particular on his mother. Therefore, after briefly laying out the Clinton family myth, I will present a brief annotated overview of the major events in Clinton’s early family life. This will provide a chronological framework within which we can develop a more psychologically framed analysis of Clinton’s early experiences and their impact on him. Toward this end I will present a detailed psychological portrait of his mother, Virginia Kelley, as the basis for a more extensive examination of Clinton’s family life and its implications in the following chapters....

    • CHAPTER 8 ADORATION AND ABANDONMENT: THE CLINTON FAMILY (pp. 166-182)

      Adoration is the experience of oneself as a beloved object.¹ Abandonment, at minimum, calls into question how adored you really are. Each by itself has profound psychological and developmental implications. Bill Clinton, however, experienced both, repeatedly.

      Beneath the Clinton family myth lies a more complex psychological reality. That reality has been obscured, in part by Clinton, in part by his mother, and in part because pundits covering this story have preferred easy explanations to accurate ones. Clinton is certainly a product of his family life, but not the family life that has emerged in most accounts.

      Clinton was born into...

    • CHAPTER 9 SOME CONSEQUENCES OF HOPE: A TALE OF TWO WOMEN (pp. 183-199)

      In the last two chapters I have examined the Clinton family myth and some aspects of the more complex reality of the family’s domestic life. One purpose of doing so has been to lay the groundwork for better understanding the experiences that helped to shape Bill Clinton. Another has been to better understand how the psychological echoes of his childhood, along with his later experiences and the circumstances he has faced in office, have shaped his presidency.

      In this chapter I will argue that in essence Clinton had two mothers, each with very different temperaments, values, and approaches to raising...

    • CHAPTER 10 VIETNAM AND THE DRAFT (pp. 200-215)

      The Vietnam War was the litmus test of a generation. The conflict divided America—Left against Right, young against old, children against parents. It provoked a crisis of governmental authority and legitimacy the effects of which remain powerful. Twenty-two years after the end of the war, the published memoirs of one of its chief architects, Robert McNamara (1995), unleashed a storm of anguished and angry debate, as did the earlier decision to extend diplomatic recognition to Vietnam (Mitchell 1995a).

      The war resulted in a profound personal crisis for many thousands of Americans and their families. Young men, many barely out...

    • CHAPTER 11 A LIFE’S CHOICE: HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (pp. 216-242)

      Marriage represents a coming together of two individuals who complement and compensate for each other. Ideally, each partner meets the other’s psychological and emotional needs while continuing to pursue his or her own aspirations. How, then, do Hillary Clinton’s psychology, ambitions, ideals, and relations with others affect her personal relationship with the president, as well as their political partnership?¹

      Ordinarily, a president’s spouse receives only passing attention unless she becomes involved in a directly political way, as did Edith Wilson when she became the guardian of her husband’s presidency after he suffered a severe stroke while in office, or she...

  9. PART IV. THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF CHARACTER
    • CHAPTER 12 JUDGMENT AND LEADERSHIP: THE CORE OF PRESIDENTIAL PERFORMANCE (pp. 245-258)

      Why are there such conflicting views of Bill Clinton as a political leader? Surely one reason is that political leaders in general, and Clinton in particular, are controversial figures.¹ Given this, how can we agree on a basis by which leaders can or should be evaluated?

      At first glance it would seem obvious that political leaders should be evaluated on their concrete accomplishments. On that basis, no critic could claim that the Clinton presidency is anything other than a rousing success. His direct student loan program, NAFTA, the crime bill, the family leave bill, and others all make up a...

    • CHAPTER 13 CLINTON’S PRESIDENCY (pp. 259-282)

      Every president has two responsibilities: to make decisions and to translate them into policy. A focus on the first requires us to ask whether a president has the requisite intellectual and emotional capacities to reach sound judgments, and whether he makes good use of them. What is his decision style? Does he generally go directly to a problem’s core? Or does he prefer to think about a problem from varied perspectives? How does he organize the process by which options are considered and selected? How does he make use of those who are available to help him in this process?...

  10. PART V. CONCLUSION
    • CHAPTER 14 LOST OPPORTUNITIES: PRESIDENT CLINTON’S FIRST TERM (pp. 285-306)

      Bill Clinton began his administration with the capabilities, skills, and experience to be counted among our best presidents. Intelligent, informed, exceptionally articulate, and clearly capable of communicating a vision, he seems to possess all that is needed to find a common ground among Americans and, in so doing, reduce public anxiety and conflict by serving as a common point of reference for diverse views. In a political system in which legislative and political accomplishments often turn on the capacity to develop and maintain relationships, Clinton is an acknowledged extrovert and master of personal charm. An experienced political leader, he has...

  11. APPENDIX BILL CLINTON’S CHARACTER AND PRESIDENCY: A NOTE ON METHOD (pp. 307-318)
  12. NOTES (pp. 319-366)
  13. REFERENCES (pp. 367-390)
  14. SUBJECT INDEX (pp. 391-398)
  15. NAME INDEX (pp. 399-402)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 403-403)