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The Politics of Intimacy

By Perry Brass

clintonsax.jpg - 22.16 K Clinton enjoying blowing his sax at his 1993 inaguaration It seems that we are now, fully, in the age of the Politics of Intimacy. In my youth, in the sixties and seventies, when personal protest led millions to march against the war in Vietnam, to protest racism, sexism, and homophobia, we believed in the Politics of Experience, that it was possible to take politics—basically, how power will be distributed—out of the smoke-filled backrooms and make it responsive to human experiences: how we lived, made a living, and related personally to people. We wanted to make politics, in other words, authentic.

But to do this, we had to hang on to the idea that at the center of experience was a personal recognition of ourselves that could not be cast aside or destroyed. It was a "core" recognition and we could look at it without hypocrisy. We could see that these experiences—both individual and universal—gave us the power to unite and protest an order of established patterns of inequality that, for the most part, had hardly been questioned.

These recognitions included the value of human life, of a home life, and an empathy with an intimate life which we began to feel had some inalienable preserve around it. We could fight for that preserve, including laws to protect it, so that within it we could actually function as individual adults.

So the Politics of Experience meant that you could openly look at your experiences, and then derive a sense of how political life should work. Instead of denying experience, it dealt with it honestly. It was from examining these experiences that we fought for women to have the right to chose, for blacks and other minorities to have equal opportunities, for gays and lesbians not to have to feel ashamed of themselves for being who they were, and for disabled people to have access.

As much of American life has been corporatized, commodified, and put on a cash-and-carry basis, much of this inalienable intimacy has been cast aside. For instance, the idea that people—especially children—have a basic right to shelter and subsistence is now completely open to debate.

Privacy itself is now used as a weapon in the "War Against Crime," which has become another big business venture, snaring more and more citizens in a war against "sexual perverts," who find that there are no "knock first" boundaries to protect them. montrip.jpg - 18.73 K Linda Tripp gets within taping distance of Monica Lewinsky

As in the case of people who have been investigated for mythical "satanic abuse," the fact that you were indicted for rumors of a crime that did not exist meant that you would have to spend a great deal of your life legally outwitting a barrage of "professional" witnesses contradicting themselves.

The fact that every aspect of your own intimate life has been involved with the indictment—and there are no boundaries at all around this indictment—will only condemn you further. You are now totally exposed, and intimacy itself, in the Politics of Intimacy, is a working weapon to be used against you.

These Politics of Intimacy have ensnared President Clinton. His lawyers in their rebuttal to the Independent Counsel's Report have said that the Report is about "'sex.'" It is ". . . loaded with irrelevant and unnecessary graphic and salacious allegations. . . ." This is absolutely true.

Except to turn a publicly funded report into a supermarket tabloid, what a moment-by-moment report on Mr. Clinton's intimate life, whether we approve of it or not, has to do with the Presidency, can only be answered in terms of the new Politics of Intimacy which aim to "clean up" personal intimate life and leave us with a neutralized, fearful citizenry best suited for the faceless, "intimacy-clean," corporate life Government has become.

Kenneth Starr's office has used any reticence Clinton might have had about his intimate life as a means to make the President perjure himself, before any crime had been suggested.

It has turned the President's private life into a chess board where Clinton was at "mate" with the first move. It has delivered a "smoking gun"—which is now simply dollars.
KENSTARR2.JPG - 13.04 K Will Ken Starr get the last laugh?

The fact that the Government has spent so much money and effort to produce the Report will, in the eyes of the American people, condemn him. We have turned the Report into a blockbuster summer movie, that people will have to pay attention to because of the expense involved, the publicity, and the sheer trashiness of its details. These will reassure most people how "clean" and safe their own lives are.

This is all very dirty pool, but currently we are knee deep in the Politics of Intimacy, and there is no inalienable intimacy left. This should make us all very comfortable with the next rank of politicians to appear, who will be the first to expunge themselves of any adult private lives they have: those personal places where the kids, the cameras, and Kenneth Starr can not be invited—ready or not—to trample.
Perry Brass is an author. His next book is How to Survive Your Own Gay Life. He can be reached at or

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