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John D. GartnerFor two years straight, Towson writer John D. Gartner got up at 3 a.m. every morning and wrote for 12 hours, racing, racing, racing, to complete “In Search of Bill Clinton: A Psychological Biography” before the presidential election, a time when he, and many others, expected Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic candidate. Even with Hillary out of the presidential picture, Gartner’s book still feels relevant— the portrait he paints of William Jefferson Clinton offers some sound theories into the questions that continue to trail the 42nd president years after he left the Oval Office. Gartner, the author of “The Hypomanic Edge: The Link between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of ) Success in America” and a psychologist on the faculty of Johns Hopkins Medical School and in private practice, says he treated Bill Clinton as a mystery to be solved, and went after clues like a detective.
—Interview by Laura Wexler

1. I know you were a fan of Clinton’s before you started writing the book. Do you respect him more or less now?
Much more. One of the things I learned while doing this book is that Bill Clinton is a genius. I interviewed a lot of experts in a lot of fields and they all said, ‘Bill Clinton knows more than I do about my field.’ He has total recall. He remembers the name of every person he’s ever met and the names of their pets. He remembers everything he reads— he always has. He doesn’t sleep— he just keeps going. I also came to appreciate what a great president he was, how great he was for the economy.

2. You’ve peered inside the heads of many people during your career as a psychologist. Is Clinton really that unusual?
He was born with an unbelievable set of strengths. I mean, ask yourself: what are the odds that the smartest person you’ve ever met is also the nicest? I went to Ireland and met with virtually everyone involved in the peace process, and when you start to realize what kind of personality it takes to broker that peace, you know it wouldn’t have happened without him. His capacity to take these ancient hatreds and transmute them to something positive is amazing. When you go to Africa and see people crowding around to touch the hem of his garment, there really is the feeling of being around Jesus. His empathy for people is real. Even his enemies admit that.

3. So … how could somebody so smart do something so stupid? Or do multiple things that are stupid?
If you treat hypomania, study hypomania or have been hypomanic, as I am, you know we do stupid things all the time. On the one hand, hypomania leads to great gifts— it gives you energy and charisma, helps you think outside the box, makes you inspiring. But it gives you trouble with impulse control, leading you to behave in ways that cause you later to say, ‘What was I thinking?’ Hypomania is a fundamental biological temperament that contributes to both Clinton’s genius and his mistakes. This election cycle he did screw up. He spoke impulsively at times when he was angry. He’s very forgiving but he has these impulsive explosions— that’s what happens when you’re hypomanic. There is more turbulence.

Bill Clinton4. Do you think Bill Clinton will read your book?
I don’t know, but I’m not expecting to be invited for coffee in Chappaqua [N.Y.] anytime soon. I manage to get beaten up by the anti-Clinton people for my sympathy toward Clinton and by the pro-Clinton people for the information I reveal that they wouldn’t want revealed, namely about Clinton’s mother’s promiscuity and the fact that the rumors about him being illegitimate are probably true.

5. If Clinton were your patient, what advice would you give him?
Take a deep breath and think before you act. The key is not acting on the impulse when you have it, and taking time to think it through. He obviously didn’t give himself that chance with Monica Lewinsky.

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