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  • Leaky Sovereignty: Clinton’s Impeachment and the Crisis of Infantile Republicanism
  • Thomas L. Dumm (bio)

Life reduced to the coupling of mouth with breast, and the slobber, and the gurgling, the surface effects. Finally the tubes are full, the body a sack of milk, blood, and urine. The eyes close, the fingers break contact, the thumb plugs up the mouth. The soft vesicle closes up. It rejects, repels with peevish movements the breast offered still, the maternal lips that want to kiss back their reward for generosity. Irritated by all that. Not interested in saying anything, in saying thanks. Not anxious about death. Just wants to curl up, to shut the eyes, plug the ears, seal the orifices, a body without organs, as Deleuze and Guatarri, and Artaud, say. Nothing but a closed, full corpuscle, cell filled with milk and blood and soft ooze shit. Sleep. Unconscious. Id. Alphonso Lingis 1

The Crime of Sucking

As I write, the Republican controlled Senate of the United States of America is trying President William Jefferson Clinton for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The two articles of impeachment passed at the end of the 105th Congress by the House of Representatives charged the president with perjury before a grand jury called by a special prosecutor, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, and obstruction of justice and the encouragement of obstruction of justice. At issue in the first count is whether the President touched, kissed or fondled the breasts and genitalia of Monica Lewinsky. 2 According to the independent counsel, if he did, then his claim not to have had sex with Lewinsky is a perjurious lie. At issue in the second count is whether the President asked that gifts that he gave to Lewinsky be returned to him, and encouraged h is secretary, Betty Currie, to lie concerning who was present when Lewinsky visited the Oval Office, whether he suborned perjury by encouraging both Currie and Lewinsky to lie to the special prosecutor, and whether by lying to people around him he was deliberately seeking to mislead the special counselor and a Federal grand jury concerning his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. 3 These charges are what remain from a referral to the House of Representatives by the Office of Independent Counsel: they follow upon an attempt by the President to conceal what he called, in his only televised address to the nation on the subject, an inappropriate relationship he had with a White House intern, a young woman named Monica Lewinsky. The charges the President faces are directly connected to his attempt to prevent people from finding out about this extramarital relationship.

There are many forces at work driving the will to impeach the president — a now apparently failed strategy to obtain partisan political advantage for the next election, rage concerning Clinton’s appropriation of Republican party issues from crime to welf are “reform,” a fundamentalist absolutism that demands purity of all, to name a few. But none of these forces is sufficient in and of itself — except perhaps the fundamentalist fear of impurity, and that in is itself is a complicated matter, insufficiently explained itself, and even if explained perhaps not then to be understood to stand by itself — to explain the intensity with which Republicans have pursued the impeachment drive. Perhaps the answer is like Poe’s purloined letter, hidden in plain sight of all. As a proposition, we might advance the following theory: while everybody knows that this scandal is about sex, far fewer have paused to think about how it is about sex. That is, few of us seem to understand how issues concerning sexuality and the variety of acts that are, by dint of the rituals of truth we live under, called sex, are so intensely potent when raised in relationship to presidential politics. The answer to the question concerning the will to impeach may rest in a better understanding of the elements of what we might call the recent history of American sexuality.

We might stipulate that President Clinton has become a condensation symbol for the counter-cultural values of the 1960s in the eyes of the cultural right-wing base of the Republican Party coalition. We might also stipulate...

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