The Glair - William Jefferson Clinton: The Catalystic Man *
In chemistry the term Catalyst is defined as: “a substance that initiates or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected.”
In politics I offer the neologism Catalystic, defined as: “an agent or agency which initiates or accelerates reaction or change, often seemingly uncontrollable change, without itself seeming to be affected.”
I. A Man for All Reasons
Like many Americans I watched with interest the interview conducted by Chris Wallace with former President Clinton, ranging over several issues but centered primarily, by Clinton’s own self-interest and behavioral demands upon the Clinton administration’s conduct and execution of the War on Terrorism. Of course during that era there was no officially declared War on Terrorism, as is the case in our present age, however there was a sort of undeclared Warm War in which terror groups like Al Qaeda directly interfered in US and US Allied interests, conducted hit and run guerilla operations in various parts of the world, and in which the US conducted surgical counter-strikes. That era was not an era of openly declared war, but of covert and guerilla warfare in which a new, but rapidly organizing enemy was on the periphery of international perception and action.
There is no need for me to psychoanalyze the performance presented by Clinton during his interview for Fox News, I’m sure that has been done over and over again throughout the blogosphere, by pundits on television, and by various radio commentators. Despite my personal experience in the field of psychology I doubt very seriously if I could add anything to the cache of comments already generated, or do I suspect I would achieve any end at this point other than to reiterate the various conclusions already drawn by others. However in personally observing, and analyzing Clinton’s interview, something occurred to me by closely observing his conduct, responses, and mannerisms that had not really occurred to me before. A sort of living and animated summation of the entire Clinton era, a distillation if you will of what his period of time, his legacy, and the legacy of those associated with his administration will probably look like to historians in a future yet to be written.
Clinton was an animal of his age. Which was essentially an age of self-involvement and self-fascination. His reaction to attacks on America and American interests combined with this narcissistic Weltanschauung colored American reaction to terrorist and terrorist attacks by foreign enemies. Yet Clinton could have no more reacted differently than the way he did to escalating danger from Al Qaeda than a Zebra could have stood his ground against an onslaught by a pack of hungry lionesses. It was natural for Clinton to misapprehend the nature of the threat and to look at each escalating series of attacks as separate, isolated, and ultimately judicial events. Because Clinton was not, and never has been, a real agent of change. Rather Clinton, like his age, was merely a catalyst for future events. Clinton’s age was an age of maintenance, of transition from an Old World with old concerns, to a New World with wholly different, far more dramatic, and far more important concerns. Historically Clinton’s presidency will be seen as a minor and unimportant chapter in the gap between the End of the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. In that gap Clinton falls like a catalyst into a soon to boil chemical soup of competing political, military, natural, cultural, sociological, religious and psychological forces. Clinton will be viewed historically like a stagehand who sets the props on a play in which he was overlooked for a major role. But that is the role of the catalystic man, he does not strut in the Main Act of the play, he either sets the cauldron to boil, or in Clinton’s case he lets the pot boil until the cup runneth over and the broth bubbles over the capacity of any lid to withstand the force of heat generated within.
Clinton was, and remains to this day, as was evidenced by his reactions to the questioning by Wallace, a catalystic man. Catalystic men do not change the world; they create the conditions of change for others without themselves ever becoming truly affected. Or they may, as was the case with Clinton, fail to suppress, redirect, or transform change until it is too late for it to take any other course than to explode outwards in a dramatic conflagration. Clinton could not understand the nature of the threat of terrorism, and certainly could not react in order to pre-empt or anticipate it because Clinton’s nature is that of a catalyst. Clinton by his actions could spur on, even encourage change in others, but he could never really understand the nature of the change that was occurring around him because like any chemical catalyst he never really participated in that reaction. A catalyst spurs action in other substances, but it remains passive in regards to the very actions and reactions it has initiated or accelerated. A true political catalyst, like a true chemical catalyst will accelerate events to unfold, to transform, to react, without ever becoming directly involved, without taking effect itself, without becoming affected in its own nature. That is the way in which a chemical catalyst operates, the way in which a catalystic man operates, and the character of the political catalyst. Clinton was such a catalyst, even though he himself remained totally and blissfully unaware of it. That is the nature of the political catalyst, it causes or encourages others to act and react without it being aware of what forces it has helped put into motion, or how those forces will interact with one another. Because of this Clinton can, and does, within his own mind, find excellent reasons for why he is not at fault for the failures of his administration to have prevented the ever escalating terrorist attacks or the ever-growing threat, which culminated in the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Towers. You see Clinton is unable to grasp the idea that he could possibly be at fault for the very same reason he could not realistically and fully comprehend the nature of the threat in the first place, Clinton is a catalyst in the world. He did not and does not change the world; he encouraged others to change the world, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, as was the case with Al Qaeda. Clinton was a man for whom it only makes sense that his reasons for failing to respond to the threat are quite logical, both to himself, and to others. Clinton became angry not because he failed to stop the 9/11 attacks, but because he was angry that no one else could understand that he could not understand why he could not stop the attacks. The attacks had been in planning and preparation, obviously, years before the actual September 11th attack, and obviously the planning and preparations were long underway well into Clinton’s second administration, but Clinton was not prepared to understand or perceive this threat. Had Clinton been elected to a third term he would have still never perceived the actual threat facing the United States until the attacks had been executed, and even then he would have been psychologically unprepared to properly react. Not because he would have not wanted to react in a decisive and effective manner, but because he was and remains to this day simply psychologically and politically unable to grasp the full historical import of the 9/11 attacks and what they implied about the present and the future. It is simply not in him. Clinton remained throughout his presidency a catalyst for change in the world, an accelerator of events, an initiator of action in others both through his own actions and through his inactions, but he was not an actual agent of change himself. And he never would have been as a president and political figure. Clinton could and can theorize, he could and can intellectualize, he could and he can reason, but he could have never acted in an effective and anticipatory manner. Clinton remained, and to this day remains, a Catalystic Man - a Man for All Reasons, but not a man who ever had a real reason to Act. Or ever understood the need to do so.
End Part One
* Note: I employ the term catalystic as opposed to catalytic so that my term will not be confused with the term catalytic as applied in the field of medicine.
© JWG, Jr. 2006