Sunday, August 3, 2014

Clinton's Choice

My husband Manny continues his series of guest posts here, this time taking a close look at the paradoxes underlying a certain politician's fight for the right to choose abortion.


It seems a curious paradox that sometimes the unplanned and unwanted choices turn out to be the best ones of our lives. At least, that’s the only conclusion I can draw from a series of observations I’ve made recently while looking into the past of some fairly prominent individuals.The first subject of my leisurely inquiry is our 42nd President, William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton (birth name William Jefferson Blythe III). An astute reader will be asking why, if God saw fit to grace William Jefferson with the surname Blythe, a name so mellifluous, so gentle, so easily rolling off the tongue, why would anyone then change it to Clinton? Clinton, for all its merits as far as surnames go, is far more brusque and shocking to the senses. To blithely go from Blythe to Clinton demands an explanation. Fortunately for us, history provides us one.  

William Jefferson Blythe III, in 1950 at age four
The fascinating part of my sojourn into the realm of history comes when we look at Bill Clinton’s mother, Virginia Dell Cassidy (1923-1994). Virginia’s parents, Eldridge and Edith Cassidy, lived in Hope, Arkansas, where they owned and ran a small grocery store. When Virginia was six months pregnant, her husband William Jefferson Blythe, Jr. (a travelling salesman) died in an automobile accident. A tragedy such as this is always unexpected. A tragedy such as this can never be planned for. And yet, here we have Bill’s future mother Virginia (I say future mother so as not to offend those liberals who might object to my conferring upon poor Virginia the title of ‘mother’ since at the time she had not yet given birth to Bill), widowed and six months pregnant. Surely, surely one could understand and hold off on passing judgment if she would have chosen to have an abortion, even in a back alley. But Virginia chose to carry her unborn child to term. Three months later, William Jefferson Blythe III was born on August 19, 1946, at Julia Chester Hospital in Hope, Arkansas. Is it appropriate to use the word ironic here? After all, Hope is the second theological virtue (Faith and Charity are the other two).

A single mother with no means of providing for herself and her newborn child, Virginia was fortunate to have her parents help her. She was able to attend nursing school and in 1950 she graduated and married Roger Clinton, Sr., who owned an automobile dealership in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with his brother. The family (I apologize for the use of this traditional term since I realize it may offend certain progressives who might prefer the use of a more generic phrase such as the ‘family unit’ but…too bad) moved to Hot Springs in 1950. Bill Clinton has said that he remembers his step-father as a gambler and an alcoholic who regularly abused his mother and half-brother, Roger Clinton, Jr., and things were so bad that he recalls having to intervene on several occasions with the threat of violence in order to protect them.   

As a child, Bill, or Billy as he was then called, attended St. John’s Catholic elementary school, and would later go on to attend the public high school. The lack of exposure to higher-level Catholic education may explain, in part, the fact that during his administration he championed policies which led directly to countless abortions throughout our country and throughout the world, though the early childhood exposure to Catholic teachings may have indirectly contributed to his campaign promise to make abortion “rare and legal.”  Or perhaps it would be helpful to glimpse through a more Freudian lens in order to see how his childhood, which his own wife Hillary described as an abusive one , may have affected or even determined his subsequent views (much like a set of billiard balls carefully aligned on a table can be setup in such a manner that striking the first will almost inevitably result in the last of the series falling effortlessly into the pocket). Such an analysis would focus on the curious way in which he, at the age of 15, adopted the surname of his abusive step-father, giving birth as it were to Bill Clinton and setting aside (as if blithely) his birthright to his actual father’s name. Such a gesture by a teenager, who was surely seething with anger towards the man whom he frequently saw abusing his mother, is hard to fathom, unless on some unconscious (or perhaps quite conscious and deliberate) level he was hoping it would appease the wrath this elder, less stately Clinton. Whatever the intention, the gesture failed, and abuse continued. 

Powerless to save his mother, the young William Jefferson Clinton would go on to wield great power on the political scene, eventually as we all know becoming governor of Arkansas and then President of the United States. Despite holding the highest office in the land, a position that grants its holder the dubious honor of being referred to as the most powerful man on earth, Clinton had backed himself into a corner. With great power comes great responsibility and, one might add, less freedom to change one’s name professionally, for unlike the Pope, the President does not assume a new name upon taking office. Clinton, then, was powerless to shed the surname of his mother’s abuser despite being the most powerful man on earth.

And what of his many indiscretions? What can peering through our Freudian lens tell us of his seeming powerlessness over his own libido -- a powerlessness which nearly cost him the very power he fought so hard to obtain? Although we may never know (and some would never care to know) how many women, other than Hillary, Bill said “I do” to after his wedding to our future President (a reluctant nod here to those Democrats enamored with the notion of a Hillary Presidency), it may be safe to say that Chelsea might have many half-siblings if it were not for the widespread availability of contraceptives (and perhaps also those “rare but legal” abortions). After all, one wonders how except for the availability of condoms, the pill, and “safe and legal” abortions, could Clinton have remained childless despite decades of presumably discreet sexual encounters behind the back of his beloved wife? The Freudian lens allows us to see, albeit in hindsight, that it may not have been simply the party platform, nor an over-riding concern for the health and well being of women, that led to Clinton being the champion of a “woman’s right to choose”, but that perhaps there may have been a bit of self-interest in the mix.

So, then, let us close the circle by coming back to those unexpected and unplanned choices we sometimes make in life, those unexpected and unplanned choices which sometimes have far-reaching consequences that reverberate throughout our lives and throughout history. Let us return to that place, to those choices, and ask ourselves what would have happened and where we would be now, if a young, unfortunate 23-year-old named Virginia living in Hope, Arkansas had decided back in 1946 to choose death for her unborn child. Virginia's choice would have eclipsed all the choices and chances that her son Bill would ever have. 

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  1. Well said, Manny! Great post.

    1. So glad you liked it, Kristin. Thanks for commenting!