A Comparative Psychohistory of McCain and Obama

By Elovitz, Paul H. | The Journal of Psychohistory, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

A Comparative Psychohistory of McCain and Obama


Elovitz, Paul H., The Journal of Psychohistory


INTRODUCTION

Though there are lots of similarities between McCain and Obama clearly the dissimilarities predominate. Advocates of Obama see him as being the bright young hope of America who has mobilized the youth and those formerly outside the political process to take a "stand for change," "change we can believe in." They believe he is a natural reconciler who can bring black and white and all other groups together to transform America for the better and restore the respect of the world after eight years of Bush's unilateralism.1

Advocates of McCain see him as an authentic American hero who showed enormous courage as a prisoner of war for over five years. He turned from public service in the military to serving the public in the political arena, but without becoming a typical politician. Instead, he has been a maverick Republican who has fought the Washington establishments for the good of the people, crossing the Senate aisle to join with reform-minded Democrats to actually work to get things done. With unusual political courage in an election year, he has stood his ground against the tide of public opinion in favor of continuing the war in Iraq to victory.

Major sections of this article will be devoted to comparing and discussing the family backgrounds, childhoods, coping mechanisms, expressions of emotion, narratives, and travels of John McCain and Barack Obama. The McCain military tradition, including his imprisonment, and his reputation as a maverick senator will be discussed, as will the issue of race in the context of Obama's search for racial identity and his political career as a black intellectual.

THE METHODOLOGY OF A PRESIDENTIAL PSYCHOBIOGRAPHER

Political psychobiography is such a powerful tool for understanding presidential candidates and other political leaders precisely because it offers insights into the origins of adaptability and inflexibility, creativity and dogmatism, innovation and rigidity, success and failure, as well as empowering and self-defeating behavior.2 It can provide invaluable insights into what policies a leader may put forth and seek to implement.

In examining the family backgrounds, childhoods, coping methods, leadership styles, personalities, and values of political candidates for over three decades, I utilize a method of empathetic inquiry tinged with skepticism. It is based on the psychoanalytic model of listening to the evidence-rather than leading with theory-and being especially attuned to the difference between stated intention and actual behavior. Psychoanalytic principles and insights are used throughout the research and writing process. In 1996 I developed the comparative presidential candidate psychohistorical method as a way of bringing forth considerable materials without prejudging the candidates and it has been used in all subsequent presidential elections.

A key issue is the search for patterns of candidate behavior. Since disciplined subjectivity is vital to the approach, the psychobiographer's fantasies, feelings, hopes for, and fears about each candidate are monitored closely. There is a conscious effort to suspend judgment as part of the process of seeking to achieve the greatest possible empathy for each candidate.

The method of research I have utilized since 1976 is to collect as much material as possible by the candidates, those close to them, and the popular media. In this election the numerous books by the presidential hopefuls and access to data from the world-wide-web has helped compensate for the plethora of candidates I have had to follow in 2007 and 2008. The contenders are watched on various televised sources including C-Span, the Public Broadcasting System News Hour, 24-hour news programs, and various interview programs. The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribute, Newsweek, and a large variety of additional sources are searched for information on the accomplishments, campaign styles, childhoods, family backgrounds, Freudian slips, life crises, personalities, politics, and so forth of the candidates. …

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