THE MASK OF BARACK OBAMA
A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
By the editors and
contributors and analysts
Copyright © 2007
February 10, 2007
THE HISTORY OF PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILING
At some elementary, functioning, practical level we are all “profilers.” Every human being is constantly reacting to other humans, profiling their likes and dislikes, their attractiveness and unattractiveness. The police detective at the crime scene is already creating his or her own profile of a possible perp.
Indeed, we use the colloquial term “read” to reflect efforts to probe deeper into someone’s psyche. “Can you read him?” “Does she read me?” And so on.
Organized, governmental profiling came into general use in World War II. Initially, Great Britain’s Special Operations executive (SOE) began to profile aspects of the Nazi regime and its demented leaders. Later, the US’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) also began to use profiling techniques to delve more deeply into the motivations of our enemies.
The advent of the Cold War and the CIA brought even more organized and expansive profiling techniques into use. These operations were later copied and extended by the FBI.
“Profiling” became controversial in 1964 when psychologists ran an ad in the New York Times claiming that Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was psychologically unfit to be president because he was unstable and dangerous. They were issuing an expert opinion based on the profiling of the candidate.
Since the 1964 debacle profiling has come into general use by campaigns, media and other public projects. We also use the colloquial expression “What makes him tick?” to reflector informal attempts to profile the motivation and character of potential customers, competitors and others with whom we come into conflict.
Finally there was a barrage of profiling analysis during the period of Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. Thus, we are on solid ground in seeking to analyze and create a psychological profile of presidential candidate Barack Obama.
THE METHODOLOGY/TECHNIQUES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILING
Psychologists use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as a matrix for profiling and diagnosing mental illness. This study is not limited by the DSM which, in any case, has limited application to a study of political personalities.
A profiler will use what is available; the value of the profile will depend on the input. During the Cold War, for example, the CIA successfully profiled Russian and Chinese leaders using published materials as well as media reports. There was little else to go on and the profiles were still remarkably accurate.
Personal interviews and views are obviously the gold coin of psychological profiling a political candidate but they were unavailable in the case of Mr. Obama.
More significantly from a profiling approach, his personality lends itself to planting subtle nuggets of self-revelation in his writings. His earlier writings, moreover, were prepared at a time when the prospects of a presidential campaign were probably not even an idle dream. So these early statements are especially helpful to a personality examination and identification.
PROFILING BARACK OBAMA
Initially one can ask: why profile Obama? Is a psychological profile really needed? The answer is, understanding a public figure’s psyche and psychological motivation is no less critical because that person is in the public arena. It may be even more important. We can see an example of the need for constant review and evaluation of a person’s mental state ripped out of the headlines, in the saga of the astronaut who went berserk and sought to stalk her romantic rival.
NASA is now reviewing its external psychological profiling procedures, to see if changes are necessary, as well as internal evaluation protocols to see why it was that no one was aware and recognized Capt. Lisa Nowaks’s mental deteriorating. So it is essential not only to profile Obama, but to keep profiling him as more information and more self-revelation become available.
A review of Obama’s public speeches, campaign materials and especially his writings reflect that Obama’s personality has been remarkably consistent from childhood through adulthood.
In his book “Dreams From my Father,” Obama lays out the foundation for an examination of his character and personality. That seminal work reveals much, and almost all of what it reveals is truthful and applicable to his presidential prospects.
Obama’s life began with loss, hurt, confusion, alienation, frustration. Out of these he constructed a psychological "mask" that still endures.
Every individual wears a mask. It is a part of reality and a part of a healthy personality and psyche.
But Obama’s pain still controls his personality. Like Dr. Strangelove’s arm, that can’t help rising, Obama's sense of loss, exclusion, frustration and fantasy still overarch his personality. He authored a book “Dreams From My Father,” when in reality he got no dreams from his father. Obama created his father’s “dreams” in his own fantasy world. The fantasies associated with the “missing parent” are among the most powerful, the most enduring and occasionally the most devastating in human experience.
He was “Barry” until he went to college. Then he became the tribal Barack. But on his first visit to his “roots” in Kenya, he once again succumbs to “Barry,” because that is what his father and family called him.
He apparently held and still holds Kenyan-American dual nationality, but has scrupulously avoided any discussion of his “dual” status. Duality is not what Obama craves: he craves the singular, the linear, and the straight and narrow, to compensate for his own confused and winding initiation into the hardship of life and family, of creating a personality and mask consonant with his troubled feelings.
Over and over again, Obama returns in his speeches and in his writings to a sense of loss, alienation, detachment. He is a skillful promoter, and he manages to overcome his mask, to gild it with soft statements and lofty promises. He sells his weakness as a new paradigm of strength, security and clarity when there is little strength and no clarity in his mind.
Indeed the very essence of his personality is the perpetual, eternal promise unfulfilled. Obama’s “Hope” is the absence of reality, the unattainable in his own life scaled up to a national fantasy which he hopes to peddle to unsuspecting voters and especially young people. When he fails, they will feel betrayed.
While decrying the “smallness” of our politics he resorts to the smallest dimensions himself. Is he seeking to control foreign policy, or is he a frustrated local school board member? Should our schools be run from Washington, as he suggests, by the president, or should local people have final authority? Should the federal government have a bigger role in local schools, or is he just engaging in the casual blather that he decries in others? What is he going to do about teacher salaries? Nationalize or federalize them? And, oh, the teachers’ unions. In Obama's fantasyland all of these conflicts and contradictions dissolve into "hope." He is for more pay and perks, but which teacher's union supports strict accountability and expedited procedures for dismissal of incompetents?
Does Obama really believe that we need to revive the role of “labor unions” in his “digital economy,” or is that merely another sop to leaders that might support his candidacy? The very things that Obama condemns, he is in the process of becoming.
Bill Clinton reduced the presidency to worrying about school uniforms. Before long, Obama may be promising “healthy snacks” for school children as part of his "hope" for the future. Where does the smallness end? Obviously not with Obama, the newest champion of the same, the secure, the warm and fuzzy and ultimately the same escapist fantasies as every other career politician.
In Iraq? Obama wants to “cut and run,” by 2008. “We can’t wait, till 2008.” It will succeed marvelously as political policy in the Democratic Party primaries, but it will bring collapse to or failed policy even worse than that engendered by George Bush.
While Obama claims to be moving along Robert Frost’s “road not taken,” in reality he is on the same road, seeking the same fund raising contributors (tens of millions of dollars), seeking to stimulate the same media hysteria and ultimately seeking to run a traditional campaign while claiming he is doing precisely the opposite. In short, a bunkum artist who is fully capable, because of his “Mask,” of convincing himself of the truthfulness of his delusions. The same way children are.
Can his personality stand the stress? Probably not.
The media will get tired of Obama’s same old tired message, he substitution of hope for reality. And, ultimately, he will get tired of himself.
Politically Obama will become cannon fodder for the Republicans. Goofy Republicans wanted Hillary; they may get Barack, a dream come true. Giuliani (whom I don’t particularly like) would rip him up. Ultimately, Obama’s personality matrix left Obama weak inside, weak under the surface, "all sail and no anchor." He learned to avoid conflict, not fight. His mother raised someone who would run away, not stand his ground. And in Iraq that could prove fatal.
Obama says his campaign is “not just about me.” But in his mind it will always be just about him. Righting the wrongs he perceived and experienced as a child. Strengthening the powerlessness he reviled. Restoring his role, the one his siblings called his father’s “Obama” attitude, in the pantheon of politics. He will strive to be a strong leader on the surface, using powerful language and images; but inside he will still be the pied piper of powerlessness. And know it.
Obama has succeeded largely by his successful concealment at the margins. Obama's natural tendency, his default state of mind, is to evade, conceal, avoid--and escape. He managed to hide his middle name in 2004; he can’t any longer. Questions of family background will still plague him. As Democrats raise the volume of their demands for withdrawal, our adversaries will seek to stroke those fears with renewed attacks of their own in Iraq.
War is war, but war is also psychology. Obama’s psychology is weak. His presentation today was weak, and his approach to dealing with his adversaries will ultimately come to be seen as weak. Obama is still the outsider, still the one who needs to justify himself, and still the one who still needs to create a fantasyland to compensate for the void left by his absent father.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
The conflicts inside Barack Obama’s soul played out today in Springfield, where he alternated between jive and reality.
As much as Obama might try to change his face, to abandon his “old” Obama for a “new” persona, he cannot do so. His growth is limited by the demons within him. The mask is rigid, hardened.
He approached the American people as though he were speaking to a college audience, casual and insufficiently serious for someone who asks for the right to put his hand on the nuclear button as well as Washington’s bible.
Obama’s 2004 Democratic National Convention speech was so powerful and so memorable precisely because he was constrained by format and content. Today’s display was free-form Obama, and he won’t travel well and sell well outside a narrow spectrum of the electorate.
As Obama comes to realize he may have finally overreached, and perhaps even exceeded his level of incompetence, he may withdraw into himself, withdraw from the battlefield, and plan to return again in a later campaign.
The Mask, however, will remain. It can never be removed. He hasn’t learned how. All of the inadequacies and frustrations he perceived as a child still drive him and still control his personality. He won’t learn how to remove the Mask because he continues to be afraid there is nothing behind it.