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The Psychological Foundation of Obama’s Political Problems

Excerpts by Justin Frank

 

28 November 2011

Since being elected president, Obama has consistently displayed a cool demeanor, one that has confounded many of his former supporters. His detachment has led many to think that he is oblivious, disinterested, even frightened of direct confrontation. The latest instance has been his passive observation of the failure of the Super Committee, which has spurred pundits and politicians from both sides of the aisle to accuse him of lacking the fire to be president. MSNBC news host Chris Matthews, once one of the president's biggest fans, recently placed direct blame for the country's malaise on the President's lack of emotional leadership. “There's nothing to root for,” he complained.

The fact that the President has failed to address, hands-on, such a critical problem should make us realize that his reluctance to take charge is not a cognitive issue, but a psychological one. It's not that Obama doesn't understand what he ought to be doing—it’s that the structure of his personality won't allow him to constructively address the problem.

This is where psychoanalysis can be of benefit. By recognizing Obama’s behavior patterns we can illuminate the unconscious thought processes that might be influencing them. Fortunately, one needn’t treat Obama as a patient to undertake a thorough analysis of him. After all, there is plenty of public material available—not least, his autobiography Dreams from My Father—from which to sketch an outline of the President’s personality using a technique called “applied psychoanalysis.”

First, some psychological preliminaries. The President's detractors are suggesting that he doesn't feel enough passion or emotion. But a basic tenet of psychoanalysis is that everyone has rage. The question is what one does with that rage, and why.

On a psychoanalytic level, Obama is someone who tries to disconnect himself from fury through intellectual exertion and by strenuously trying to keep matters in clear focus. He doesn’t simply contain his rage or hold it inside his mind; he dissociates–a psychoanalytic term for disconnecting thought from feeling.  This allows him to operate in a purely intellectual state, protected from the disruptive influences of excessive passions.

The 1789 French Revolutionary saying, “The tongue is the enemy of the neck," describes the approach Obama has always lived by. He turns a blind eye to his own rage; he seems almost sleepwalking when others would be screaming.  This is not simply a matter of the president’s public persona pushing aside the private, enraged one.  It is a profound ability to disconnect himself from feeling the full force of his own rage.

Ultimately, this is an expression of his fear of abandonment. In fact, what appears as detachment is the latest manifestation of a long history of removing himself from the fray in idiosyncratic ways.  Growing up as a mixed-race child of two broken homes, and living in two dramatically different countries, Barack Obama learned to survive by carefully noticing everything around him while at the same time not allowing himself to feel the full emotional impact of his experience.

He dealt with loss without protest. He didn't complain when his mother abandoned him to pursue her passion for anthropology on far-flung expeditions, or when she removed him from the home of his stepfather in Jakarta when he was ten. Instead, Obama focused on surviving by getting along. He pursued inclusion relentlessly, even when circumstances repeatedly cast him in the role of the outsider. 

It's not an accident that one of the strategies he developed to maintain his membership in groups was to keep his mouth shut. Indeed, his autobiographies show that he was repeatedly taught as a child to keep his feelings to himself. His stepfather Lolo told him regularly never to complain if he were hurt or in trouble. His high school basketball teammates reinforced that message some years later. And so by keeping careful and cautious watch of his surroundings, he learned to be at home in different groups, easily shifting from one to the other.

This kind of dissociation is at the core of some his greatest political strengths. It helped him become intellectually nimble, and acutely alert to his surroundings. It's only by adapting this kind of psychic position his entire life that Obama was able to easily joke at the White House Correspondents Dinner while knowing there was an active mission underway to kill Osama bin Laden.

But assuming this perpetually peripheral role has also taken a lasting toll. The anxiety of not belonging has grown to occupy an ever-greater part of his psyche. He writes in Dreams from My Father that when, as an adult, he was walking through the most dangerous parts of Chicago late at night, the greatest fear he had was the fear of not belonging. But now there is a new tension, between his need to belong and the demands of standing up for what he believes.  The former is driven by his related fears of not belonging and being abandoned; the latter carries the risk of alienating others irrevocably. 

In material reality, his concern with alienating conservatives is wholly unproductive: it is unlikely that he can be more hated by the Tea Party than he already is. Nonetheless, he continues to relentlessly pursue compromises with Republicans that will never happen. Indeed, so concerned is he with his own degree of belonging that he jeopardizes the sympathies of those who actually have felt a natural and authentic connection to him. Whatever other political and personal advantages it confers, Obama's observational caution doesn’t give jobless participants in “Occupy Wall Street” or Wisconsin’s striking public employees the sense that he is concerned. 

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Obama on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President—Justin A. Frank, M.D.—Obama’s transformation over the course of his brief but incredibly well-examined political career has left some supporters disillusioned and has further frustrated opponents. To explore this change in behavior, and Obama’s seeming inability to manage the response to his actions, Dr. Frank delves into his past, in particular, the President’s turbulent childhood, to paint a portrait of a mixed-race child who experienced identity issues early in life, further complicated by his father’s abandonment. As he addresses everything from Obama’s approach to health care reform, his handling of the Gulf Oil spill, to his Middle East strategies, Dr. Frank argues that the President’s decisions are motivated by inner forces—in particular, he focuses on Obama’s overwhelming need to establish consensus, which can occasionally undermine his personal—and his party’s—objectives. By examining the President’s memoirs, his speeches, and his demeanor in public, Dr. Frank identifies the basis for some of his confusing or self-defeating behavior. Most significantly, he looks at the President’s upbringing and explores the ways in which it has shaped him—and what this means for our nation and its future.

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Murder as Instrument of Foreign Policy—Liaquat Ali Khan—3 November 2011—President Obama has openly deployed murder as an instrument of foreign policy. Soon after assuming office, Obama authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to plan and execute the murder of terrorists and other enemies, regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens. Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Muammar Gaddafi are the prominent murder victims while numerous others in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, and Pakistan have been purposely targeted and killed. The legitimization of extra-judicial killing is a disturbing development in international law as other nations are certain to follow suit. In pursuit of pre-meditated murders, the collateral damage (the killing of the obviously innocent) has been extensive. The claim that such murders can be executed with electronic precision, though false, serves as an incentive for other nations to develop drones to perpetrate their own surgical assassinations. For now, however, the CIA enjoys the monopoly over drone kills.—InformationClearinghouse

Farrakhan: Gadhafi fought U.S., NATO Terrorists with Honor / Olbermann Calls Obama A Sellout, Republicans Treasonous

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The Left’s Confused Reactions to Qaddafi’s Death—Joseph Klein—26 October 2011—The Left’s Obama cheerleaders also conveniently forget that Qaddafi would have posed a far graver danger to his own people and to American security interests had he not been forced to abandon his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, including his nuclear arms program. Qaddafi did so directly as a result of President George W. Bush’s successful military intervention in Iraq that brought down Saddam Hussein.

Although Obama did not seek congressional approval for American military intervention in Libya – which President George W. Bush did obtain prior to initiating military action in Afghanistan and Iraq – the Left’s congressional “anti-war” Bush critics heaped praise on Obama. For example, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who famously was for the Iraq war before he was against it, gushed about the Obama administration’s “clear-eyed leadership, patience, and foresight by pushing the international community into action after Qaddafi promised a massacre.” Once again, Kerry seems to have gotten things backwards. It was the Arab League, United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy who pushed hard for military intervention and led the effort to obtain the UN Security Council’s blessing under the pretext of protecting Libyan civilians. Obama reluctantly joined the bandwagon already in motion, “leading from behind,” as one of his senior advisors put it.—FrontPageMag

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Not Gone With the Wind Voices of Slavery—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—9 February 2003—Unchained Memories, an HBO documentary that makes its debut tomorrow night, provides a powerful answer to that question. It gives us, through the faces and voices of African-American actors, an introduction to a vast undertaking that took place in the 1930's: the collection and preservation of the testimonies of thousands of aged former slaves in an archive known as the Slave Narrative Collection of the Federal Writers' Project. This archive unlocked the brutal secrets of slavery by using the voices of average slaves as the key, exposing the everyday life of the slave community. Rosa Starke, a slave from South Carolina, for example, told of how class divisions among the slaves were quite pronounced:

''Dere was just two classes to de white folks, buckra slave owners and poor white folks dat didn't own no slaves. Dere was more classes 'mongst de slaves. De fust class was de house servants. Dese was de butler, de maids, de nurses, chambermaids, and de cooks. De nex' class was de carriage drivers and de gardeners, de carpenters, de barber and de stable men. Then come de nex' class, de wheelwright, wagoners, blacksmiths and slave foremen. De nex' class I members was de cow men and de niggers dat have care of de dogs. All dese have good houses and never have to work hard or git a beatin'. Then come de cradlers of de wheat, de threshers and de millers of de corn and de wheat, and de feeders of de cotton gin. De lowest class was de common field niggers.''NYTimes

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books

For July 1st through August 31st 2011
 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 27 December 2011

 

 

 

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