Obama for Change or McCain for Continuity

Article excerpt

Group-fantasies that are shared by residents of the United States connect the voters with the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees. Some of these group-fantasies support Obama; others support McCain. Differential group-fantasies are shared by Republican and Democratic voters. Obama's victory over several Democratic rivals, notably Hillary Clinton, is attributable to Obama's better fulfillment of the groupfantasies of Democratic voters. McCain's victory over several Republican rivals is attributable to his better fulfillment of the group fantasies of Republican voters.

The national purpose is a general group-fantasy, shared by the leaders and by many members of both major political parties. Currently this national purpose is world domination by the United States of America. Manifestations of this national purpose include the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and proposals for war against Iran. Some voters will choose McCain, who supports this national purpose. Other voters will choose Obama, who advocates a different national purpose.


Group-fantasies refer to desires that are shared by a large aggregation of people. Various historical group-fantasies have been described by Lloyd deMause.1 Shared decisions by the voters and leaders in a nation have also been designated as national group governance.2 Populations are sometimes described as having a single group-fantasy that is shared by all the group members. The group-fantasy includes a predictable change in sentiments toward the group leader. Initially the leader is idealized and supported. Subsequently the leader is vilified and rejected.3

Group-fantasies include contradictory sentiments, such as preference for a leader who advocates continuity and preference for a leader who represents change. These opposite sentiments can coexist because they are largely inaccessible to conscious and rational awareness. People are afraid of losing their assets but also desire a better future. The optimal leader therefore is familiar and reassuring, fulfilling the preference for continuity. The optimal leader is also novel and a reformer, fulfilling the preference for change.

Presidential elections in the United States provide a choice between the group-fantasies of two rival political groups, Democrats and Republicans. An article by Barry in 20044 stated that a group-fantasy preference for populist and permissive leadership is shared by most Democrats. Desire is stronger for change than for continuity, especially among younger and better educated Democrats. A group-fantasy preference for elite and authoritarian leadership is shared by most Republicans. Desire is stronger for continuity than for change, especially among older and wealthier Republicans.


The present article is one of three contributions to a panel at the 31st annual convention of the International Psychohistorical Association, on 4 June 2008.5 A paradoxical similarity of Obama and McCain is that both of them are unusual presidential candidates. Democrat Obama is less than 50 years old and in his fourth year as a United States Senator. His equal mixture of African American and white ancestry represents a desirable change for many voters but also is a rejection of continuity. All the previous presidents were white. His candidacy for the presidency was initially regarded as rash and premature. Republican McCain is in his fourth sixyear term as a Senator and is more than 70 years old. His campaign for the presidency almost collapsed late in 2007 because of insufficient funds from supporters. He would be the first president with a prior career as an airline pilot and the first whose predecessor is a generally unpopular member of the same political party.

Another similarity of the two candidates is that both are highly sociable. McCain enjoys prolonged dialogues with reporters and friends. His previous career as a Navy officer involved many hours of conversations in the Officers' Club. …