Whose Unconscious Is Showing?

The press is fascinated with Hillary’s outburst. “No,” she shot back to a young Congolese student who asked if she checked with her husband. “My husband is not the Secretary of State. I am.”

Some reporters speculated she was resentful of the publicity Bill Clinton received for freeing the two journalists in North Korea. Others have thought she found Obama’s recent visit to Africa a tough act to follow, and that might have produced some strain in her. Their speculations obscure some of the more obvious aspects of the case: for one thing, the poor student’s unconscious assumptions. First, of course, he revealed that he thought Mrs. Clinton, as a woman, was not her own person. She couldn’t or she shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions on her own.

Second, he got confused about who her husband was. He explained later he meant to ask if she had spoken with President Obama. Here again the unfortunate student might have been confused by the key role that nepotism plays in corrupt African politics. Not only, as a woman, was she not her own person, but he may well have thought she had to be married to the President to earn the right to make decisions.

So, actually, what happened is that she set him straight, answering the question she was asked – perhaps a bit more forcefully than necessary. But then she was visiting seven countries in eleven days and, perhaps, too tired to deal gracefully with a dumb, impertinent question.

But the press! What is going on with them? Falling into the role of amateur psychoanalysts all too readily, they do not bother to check their own assumptions or to wonder about their own motivations. Gleefully, naively, they wade in.

Naïve interpretations are often a hostile form of one-upmanship. In this case, the fact that the interpretations are impertinent and dismissive is masked by the fact that everyone seems to be doing it. When it is done en masse, and when the public readily joins in, it becomes simply and plainly just “news.”

But what are the journalists’ unconscious attitudes? The clue is in the question. My guess is that they are the one’s comparing Hillary to Bill, that they are judging her performance against his, projecting their thoughts on to her. Moreover, I suspect, they judge her because, having failed in her presidential bid, she agreed to take on the secondary role of Secretary of State. Assuming she feels resentful at being diminished in her role, they are diminishing her themselves and, then, detect the resentment in her that their own unconscious attitudes would deserve to elicit in her were they to be expressed. Of course, she is resentful, their unconscious logic runs, she must know we don’t respect her.

And very likely she does know – and maybe that is why she has refused further comments on the issue. After all the hard work of this arduous trip, that’s all they seem to care about.