‘Monster’? The Darker Side of Hillary Clinton’s Character

Samantha Power (left), President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sit together during a memorial service for diplomat Richard Holbrooke on Jan. 14, 2011, in Washington. | AP Photo

Samantha Power (left), President Barack Obama, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sit together during a memorial service for diplomat Richard Holbrooke on Jan. 14, 2011, in Washington. (Photo credit: Associated Press)

By Sarah Moore and Aubrey Immelman
Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics
March 8, 2008

Last Friday, Samantha Power, a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama, made headlines by declaring Hillary Clinton “a monster.” In an article in a Scottish newspaper, Power was quoted as saying, “She is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything” (“‘Hillary Clinton’s a monster’: Obama aide blurts out attack in Scotsman interview,” The Scotsman, March 7, 2008).

Power resigned within hours of her gaffe hitting the headlines. “I made inexcusable remarks that are at marked variance from my oft-stated admiration for Senator Clinton and from the spirit, tenor, and purpose of the Obama campaign,” she wrote in a prepared statement.

Clearly, the ad hominem nature of Power’s personal attack was tasteless. However, should the substance of her tactless statement be brushed off summarily, or does it have a grain of truth that warrants closer examination in the public interest?

The present analysis is part of a series of nearly 30 analyses of political candidates — four of them dealing with Hillary Clinton — published in the Times since the 2000 election cycle by research collaborators at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.

Darker qualities

As noted in two recent articles in the series (“Does Clinton have only 1 card to play?” Feb. 26, 2008; “Clinton, Obama show their strengths,” Mar. 4, 2008), Clinton possesses qualities that could make her an effective leader. However, she also has personality traits (not highlighted in previous reports) that reveal a darker, Machiavellian side.

Three studies of Clinton conducted at the research unit in the past decade have identified, with consistent results, the core features of her personality.

Clinton’s profile contains a cluster of three prominent patterns: a dominant, controlling tendency (aggressiveness); an ambitious, self-serving tendency (narcissism); and a conscientious, dutiful tendency (obsessiveness).

Also of note, Clinton’s profile shows quite a high level of distrust and a relative lack of outgoing and accommodating features, suggesting a deficit of warmth and congeniality.

For more insight into Clinton’s character, let’s take a closer look at the three core qualities of her personality.

Dominant and controlling

Dominant individuals are tough, unsentimental, strong-willed, assertive, and outspoken. These qualities have many positive aspects; for example, speaking out and standing up for what you believe in, easily rising to leadership challenges, holding your ground, and demonstrating unflinching courage in the face of opposition.

However, these traits potentially have a more sinister side; the dominant tendency also reflects a strong drive for power and the expectation that their authority should be unquestioned. In addition to being coercive, these personalities tend to be unempathic, stubborn, and inflexible.

When pushed on personal matters, highly dominant leaders are prone to respond vindictively, especially when feeling humiliated or belittled. They are quick to attack when provoked or challenged and their first inclination is to dominate and demean their adversary.

Clinton has been portrayed as a no-nonsense individual who likes to take charge, is not easily intimidated, and often inspires respect — even grudging respect inspired by fear.

In his book The Choice (1996), Bob Woodward wrote that Clinton occasionally “snapped at people, even blew up, providing a momentary glimpse of inner rage. She seemed angry … [and] often seemed not to recognize when she was hurting people.”

Woodward’s observation offers a glimpse of someone who needs to be in charge, does not easily tolerate dissent, and lacks empathy for others.

Ambitious and self-serving

In moderation, personal ambition also has positive aspects; for example, boldness, competitiveness, and self-assurance. But the self-confidence of ambitious leaders readily shades into arrogance, a sense of entitlement, and an air of superiority — and they often act as though entitled.

After interviewing many of Clinton’s associates for a 1994 article in New Yorker magazine, Connie Bruck concluded, “In the end, the sureness about her own judgment — at its extreme, a sense that she alone is wise — is probably Hillary’s cardinal trait.”

Similarly, political scientist and psychoanalyst Stanley Renshon wrote in High Hopes: The Clinton Presidency and the Politics of Ambition that one aspect of Hillary Clinton’s character that stands out is her confidence in herself, her positions, and her work — resulting in a sense of entitlement, “a tendency to not want to be bound by limits that apply to others.”

A distrusting nature

Clinton’s elevation on the “Distrusting” scale of the personality inventory used at the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics to evaluate political leaders is unusually high relative to other candidates studied in the last four presidential election cycles.

Distrusting leaders — especially those who also happen to be highly dominant and ambitious — tend to be thin-skinned and hypersensitive to perceived slights; vengeful, with a willingness to “balance the books” with respect to perceived past wrongs; prone to “us versus them” thinking; self-righteous, acting arrogantly and with a sense of entitlement; and self-justifying, viewing their attacks on adversaries either as defensive necessity or as “payback.”

For example, Clinton was reportedly the central figure in the 1993 White House travel office dismissals, in which scores were ruthlessly settled.

Gail Sheehy, in her book Hillary’s Choice (1999), had this to say about Clinton’s view of the world: “Her view of humanity is that mankind was born selfish and unruly and must be channeled. … Politics was the means. She even admitted that she couldn’t identify with the ‘faceless masses.’ She sounded … elitist, privileged, distrustful of the people.”

So, Clinton may have a Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog view of the world, but that doesn’t justify the gratuitous demonization of pejoratively branding her “a monster.”

That said, last December, former president Bill Clinton warned that to elect Obama would be “to ‘roll the dice’ for America.” By the same token, as we contemplate the prospect of the second Clinton presidency in a generation, it behooves Americans to ask themselves if they are willing to take a gamble on another Clinton.

Note. A slightly edited version of this article was published as the “Your Turn” column “‘Monster’? Consider darker side of Hillary Clinton” in the St. Cloud Times (p. 5B), March 12, 2008.