Yesterday's NY Times assessed President Obama's China trip somewhat unfavorably. Although they called the criticism "premature," they threw in a few digs of their own, using words like "disappointing" and "dispiriting" in the context of the trip.
In today's NY Times the columnist Maureen Dowd went much further. For the first time, she wrote, Obama's approval rating dipped below 50%. This is how she summed up the first year of the Obama presidency:
"Dither, dither, speech. Foreign trip, bow, reassure. Seminar, summit. Shoot a jump shot with the guys, throw out the first pitch in mom jeans. Compromise, concede, close the deal. Dither, dither, water down, news conference.It's time for the president to reinvent this formula and convey a more three-dimensional person."
It seems that the main critique of Mr. Obama thus far is that either he is not clear exactly what he believes or he is not standing up fully for what he believes. He has been fairly criticized for not standing up to the banks on the domestic front and not standing up for American values and interests in the Middle East, Iran, China, Japan and Russia. Just last week he began the Asian trip by entertaining a major concession to our major Far East ally regarding the Marine base in Okinawa.
Don't get me wrong. We therapists would be the last one to knock bridge building and flexibility. The problem is that the president's talent for conciliation and reconciliation though a precious quality in many situations, may also be a defense in others.
I love my profession and always wonder how its knowledge can be applied to help and heal individuals and groups of people. This makes me wonder: If the President wanted help to stand up to others could psychoanalysis help?
I would have to say, probably yes. Psychoanalysis is very good in dealing with defenses. We do not break them, but rather we study them. We create an atmosphere of warmth and with a light touch we encourage the patient to study his defenses instead of just employing them. Group psychoanalysis in particular is an accelerated, highly effective strategy for getting to core of a characterological difficulty.
In the case of the President, his "peacemaking" tendency would no doubt manifest itself in the group. It would be identified and highlighted by the leader and group members and he would then be encouraged to educate the group as to its origins. Group members might also be invited to speculate as well.
There is little doubt that some would see his self-described early longings for an absent (and abusive) father as a factor that influences his day-to-day behavior in the present. A colleague of mine tells it like this: you have to have a father that you loved and loathed and one that loved and hated you in the right amounts in order to stand up to Iran, Japan, Russia and North Korea
This is no easy task, Mr. President. We citizens are here to help you succeed.