Freud's brilliant insight, "Groups take on the personality of the leader," is worth taking to heart. Policy matters, but so does personality.
One past President who stands out for me as having plunged the country into his unfortunate personal emotional state was Carter. Carter always felt depressed to me. Under his leadership I recall feeling negative about America like a depressed person feels negative about himself.
Clinton projected the opposite. Clinton's can-do optimism permeated my own feelings.I loved America during Clinton's presidency. I felt confident that our nation could handle whatever challenges came our way. Policies aside, Clinton's contagious optimism led the country into a period of economic prosperity. Feeling good about ourselves gives us confidence to launch business ventures, to expand the factory, to buy today because there'll be money again tomorrow.
Obama exemplifies the impact of a President with similar policies to those of Clinton combined with a totally different personality.
Obama's critics write about how rudderless the country feels under his regime. That strikes me as the way a son might feel who grew up fatherless.
Not just George Washington but all our Presidents fill the role of father. If Obama feels to many in America like an absentee dad, handsome and likable yet playing golf rather than protecting us, could that tone come from the President's father's abandonment of him and his mother?
Americans in frightening economic times are likely to seek a strong dad to put into the White House. The candidate who best conveys "Lean on me..." is likely to have the most appeal.
Franklin Roosevelt, with his fireside chats, modeled the potency of a warm and reassuring presence. His voice, as much and maybe even more than his plan of action, conveyed that Daddy will take care of us. "There's nothing to fear but fear itself."
President Reagan also conveyed to many Americans, "Everything's gonna be all right."
Another vital factor for the election ahead is the extent to which candidates are indulging in negative electioneering, that is, using their air time to tell us what's wrong with the other candidate and to point fingers at whomever they claim we should blame for our problems.
Most people would prefer a candidate who uses his speeches to explain our current economic doldrums and a rationale for the strategies he thinks will remedy the situation. A candidate who fosters divisiveness would most likely become a President who fosters divisiveness. A candidate who explains our country's current challenges and offers comprehensible solutions is likely to be a more effective President, or at least more reassuring to American citizens.
To me, the most intriguing Presidential candidate this election cycle with regard to personal traits was Herman Cain. Cain radiated a folksy groundedness. He exuded confidence to the point that he could make outrageously non-pc statements that felt so genuine that people still listened. Confidence could be good for America now.
Cain also exuded capable problem-solving, boldness and humor. In an America that finds itself mired in unemployment, a shrinking economy, world-wide fragility of our banking systems, global warming, plus nuclear threats from Iran that could trigger a nuclear-induced global winter, Cain's temporary surge in popularity suggested that many citizens would like a dad at the helm who projects that he knows where he's going.
Cain's strong convictions conveyed that we'd all be safe. To many Americans, Cain conveyed that he would be trustworthy navigating the treacherous waters through which the next President will need to guide the family boat. He sounded, at least for a brief tie, like a Daddy who knew where he was heading and had a route to get us there.
The turn-around specialist who projected humor, inspiration and love for America had, alas, only temporary voter appeal. Americans also are looking for a daddy whose personal life exemplifies the ideals of integrity with regard to sexual fidelity that we hold dear.
I will feel relieved if November 2012 brings us a strong leader, Democrat or Republican, who can give America a renewed sense of security, unity and optimism, plus a plan that makes sense to me about what he will do to stabilize our economic future.
I do for sure however feel deeply grateful to our founding fathers that we live in a country where we, the citizens, get to choose our leader. And where, if we choose mistakenly, in four years we will get to choose another. May we always remain "one nation, under G-d, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
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Susan Heitler, PhD, a Denver Clinical psychologist, is author of multiple publications including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler's most recent project is a marriage skills website, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com.