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Personality and Campaign:
Obama, Clinton, Hunter

Natalia J. Garland

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Personality seems to be especially important in the 2008 presidential campaigns. The psychotherapist, Alfred Adler (1870-1937), thought that striving for success was a component of personality. Adler developed a theory of Individual Psychology in which striving for success was one of his basic assumptions about mankind.

Individual psychology assumes further the individual's striving for success in the solution of his problems, this striving being anchored in the very structure of life. But the judgment of what constitutes success is again left to the opinion of the individual.

Our criterion for appraising a specific variant, whether a given individual or a group, is always the direction towards the ascending development and welfare of mankind.
[End of quotes.]

In other words, there are two ways to measure success: (1) a personal satisfaction with one's efforts, (2) an objective evaluation of whether one's efforts have advanced the wellbeing of society. For the purpose of this discussion, it will be assumed that the presidential candidates of 2008 have some level of sincerity in wanting to serve the American people. Using Adler's ideas about personality, the campaigns of three candidates will be evaluated: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Duncan Hunter. Let me emphasize that these evaluations concern the presidential campaigns and how the candidates present themselves within the workings of their campaign activities. No evaluation is intended to carry official diagnostic value (D.S.M. categories are avoided).

The campaign keyword seems to be change, especially among Democrats. This is a superficial motto unless candidates can explain the types of changes they propose and how they will achieve such changes. Change is always a part of any election. That is why we have elections and why we set term limits. Change, or prevention of domination and obstruction of corruption, is built into the democratic process.

Despite their zeal for change, most candidates' platforms hark back to the various golden days of yesteryear. In terms of their political focus (whether it be civil rights, healthcare, or terrorism), and in terms of their stylistic preferences (whether it be oratory, photographs, debates, or interviews), nothing has changed. If real change, meaning something new or original, is the thrust of a candidate's striving for success, then there is already incongruity in their campaign messages. The following two charts will help to illustrate this.


Obama grassroots + change
Clinton change + experienced leadership
Hunter restore conservatism (fiscal + social + defense)



Obama John F. Kennedy + Martin Luther King, Jr. (1960's)
Clinton Bill Clinton (1990's)
Hunter Ronald Reagan (1980's)


Certainly, it is not wrong to restore the problem-solving skills of an earlier political era--so long as those skills can be used effectively in our current situation. In the attempt to apply an Adlerian view, it would seem that not only must a candidate feel personal satisfaction with their problem-solving approach, but the result of any of these approaches must be the advancement of mankind. This advancement, its substance or direction, has not been explained in detail by the Democratic candidates and by some Republican candidates. The most disturbing aspect of the above charts is that the candidates and voters apparently feel satisfaction with an incongruous message.


Photos (Go to photo page)
If George W. Bush ever published photographs like those of Barack Obama, he would be accused of messianism. In photo O-1, Obama sits with his wife and two daughters. The children are lovingly and physically bonded to Obama, while his wife sits beside him and leans on him. There is no physical touch between mother and children. In the background, there is a hazy scene of grayish-white forms which seem to be open to interpretation. The forms look like clouds, or like a lake and shore, or like a mountainous island, or like factory smokestacks. Whatever the forms are supposed to be, Obama and family appear to float on and within the whole formation in a mystical, other-worldly fashion.

In photo O-2, Obama appears in a bust-portrait, wearing a white dress shirt and a tie. The immediate background is a bluish-white haze that spreads to the right in a bright blue and then to a dark blue slogan area. Obama's campaign insignia or trademark appears to the left of his portrait. The trademark is formed in a circle, or letter o. There is an abstract design within the circle: a hill represented by red and white stripes, a white semi-circle sun rising above the hill, and a blue sky encapsulating the semi-circle sun and meeting the hill on the horizon. The light from the sun also seems to radiate down into the red-striped hill. Although the design is rendered in the patriotic colors of red, white, and blue, it is contained in or dominated by the circle (presumably the letter o for Obama).

Photo O-3 is a variation of Obama's trademark design. A head-portrait of Obama replaces the sun. There is a circle, or letter o, around the portrait. There is blue above and red below a mid-point or horizon mark.

Change we can believe in. What does that mean? What kinds of changes, and why should voters believe in change? Obama's slogan seems to imply that change is not something to be believed as a possibility and then verified as factual, but is in itself to be believed in. As with Obama's photos, there is a religious or mystical dimension to his slogan.

I'm asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington...I'm asking you to believe in yours. Obama, like the civil rights leaders of the 1960's, operates at a grassroots level. He is capable of both oratory and spontaneity. He is a multi-tasker, an organizer, and a mobilizer. Obama is, perhaps foremost, an inspirational leader and his political strategy moves forward in a somewhat psychological self-help manner. He and his wife encourage people to overcome their doubts and fears, and to have hope.

Obama is a 46-year-old, Democratic Senator from Illinois. Although he is biracial, having a black father and a white mother (and his mother raised him), he seems to identify as black. He is a graduate of Columbia and Harvard. His wife, Michelle, is a graduate of Princeton and Harvard. They were just recently able to pay back their student loans with the publication of Barack Obama's books. Obama has always been against the Iraq War and favors withdrawal.

In his Iowa Caucus victory speech, Obama said: This was the moment when we finally beat back the politics of fear, and doubt, and cynicism; the politics where we tear each other down instead of lifting this country up. This was the moment.

What It Means
At first glance, Obama's campaign seems to be about honesty in government and empowerment of the people. Underneath this uplifting message, however, his campaign seems strongly anti-Bush, anti-Iraq War, and anti-Clinton. It should not be surprising that Obama has been able to attract older white people and young people of all races. Older white people remember the 1960's. They remember the excitement and how good it felt to be anti-establishment and pro-civil rights. Despite the social injustices, and because of the righteous nature of those struggles, it was a golden, pre-9/11 era. It was time of activism, legislation, and increased educational and employment opportunities. Today's young people have learned about John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. in school. It might be fair to say they have been taught more about the 1960's than about Abraham Lincoln or George Washington. There is a double-generational voter movement toward Obama: the older nostalgic voters and the young energized voters.

What It Lacks
Obama needs to explain his Senate voting record. Why did he vote present more than 100 times instead of yes or no? How does his voting record fit with his concept of making changes?

Obama needs to reconsider his reaction to the military surge in Iraq. In the spirit of "lifting this country up" he must reconcile his anti-war stance with the success of the surge and with any plan for withdrawal. In the article, "The Surge Effect," Fred Barnes wrote:

Barack Obama was the most disappointing in the debate. He offered an imaginative excuse for dismissing the surge: that the embrace of American forces in Iraq by Sunnis, the ruling ethnic group under Saddam Hussein, had been prompted by the Democratic election victory in 2006. The Sunnis were suddenly fearful of an American pullout that would leave them vulnerable to Shia oppression.

But the Sunni Awakening was a rebellion against the brutality of al Qaeda, the one-time ally of the Sunnis in the insurgency. And it began well before the American election. Indeed Sunni leaders have made clear that the Awakening happened because of their confidence the Americans would be sticking around to protect them from al Qaeda reprisals.
[End of quotes.]

Obama explains his own view on national security as follows:

When I am this party's nominee, my opponent will not be able to say that I voted for the war in Iraq; or that I gave George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; or that I supported Bush-Cheney policies of not talking to leaders that we don't like. And he will not be able to say that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether or not it is ok for America to torture--because it is never ok... I will end the war in Iraq... I will close Guantanamo. I will restore habeas corpus. I will finish the fight against Al Qaeda. And I will lead the world to combat the common threats of the 21st century: nuclear weapons and terrorism; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. And I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now."
[End of quote.]

Obama also needs to explain whether his religious faith has affected his political goals. Obama is a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ. This church adheres to the Black Value System which includes the following statement: "To measure the worth and validity of all activity in terms of positive contributions to the general welfare of the Black Community and the Advancement of Black People towards freedom." Obama must proclaim if his primary allegiance is to all Americans, or to the black community and then secondarily to the remainder of Americans. Voters should not have to infer Obama's priorities, but should hear Obama clearly state his own value system.

Republican presidential candidates have been asked to explain their religious beliefs and the impact of those beliefs on their political views. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, and Mitt Romney, a Mormon, have had to answer numerous questions and concerns regarding religion. No less should be expected of Obama. The following paragraph is an 'About Us' statement from the Trinity United Church of Christ website.

We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
[End of quote.]

Where is change? Obama'a campaign seems to present him as a savior. Democrats have accused George W. Bush of having this same public persona. Obama and his wife are a power-couple, which makes them look very much like the Bill-and-Hillary-Clinton partnership of the 1990's. What is change? The concept of change has already become politically correct. Anyone who does not believe in change risks being put in the cynic category. The Obama campaign points back to history and, stylistically, seems like a reproduction of other times and persons. The question for Obama, and for America, is whether this vintage pattern can be stencilled onto the 2008 forms. Adler wrote:

Individual Psychology has established the presupposition, against which no argument can be found, of the unity and self-consistency of the personality.
[End of quote.]

If Obama has unified the positive messages of various leaders of the past--especially Kennedy and King, Jr.--into a cohesive wholeness of personality, then perhaps he can rid government of corruption and advance the wellbeing of all Americans. In our post-9/11 world, it would seem impossible to do this without a solid plan on how to overcome terrorism. Obama's message of hope might have to rely on military personnel who are willing to sacrifice their lives during his presidency, and on returning veterans who fought a war which he did not support from the beginning.


Photos (Scroll down photo page)
There are numerous photographs on Hillary Clinton's campaign website. Her leading photo, C-1, is a much more typical portrait than Obama's, but there are nevertheless some interesting observations to be made. The bust-portrait shows Clinton with her left hand reaching across her chest or heart area, as if to express heartfelt love (presumably love of country). Clinton wears a large diamond wedding ring. The ring is obvious--it could have been cut from the photo, or she could have placed her right hand across her chest--and suggests fidelity to her husband and former U.S. president, Bill Clinton. This loyalty is probably both marital and political. Clinton wears a suit jacket, the color of which is difficult to discern. It appears to be a grayish-pink or pinkish-gray. The color would seem to represent a combination of business and femininity.

Photo C-2 is a composite of two photos of Clinton from her younger years. At the left, she appears as a cute little girl. At the right, she appears as an attractive young woman in what could be a high-school yearbook photo. These photographs add human interest to Clinton, and also give the impression of a lifetime of preparing for (and therefore deserving of) the presidency.

Ready for change. Ready to lead. In other words, if the voters are ready for change, then Clinton is ready to lead them in the process of effecting that change.

I will work my heart out. Clinton's statement seems to balance her lifelong political experience with Obama's campaign focus on grassroots change and with Obama's charisma. Clinton is a hardworker who appreciates competence, effectiveness, and self-discipline. She is task-focused, perhaps to the detriment of relationships. Even though she has always been an advocate for women and children, she is not perceived as a people-person. Clinton operates from talking-points and from political alliances which some people refer to as the Clinton Machine.

Clinton is a 60-year-old, Democratic Senator from New York and a former first lady. She is a graduate of Wellesley and Yale. She has been especially dedicated to the wellbeing of women and children. She and Bill Clinton have one daughter, and Hillary Clinton seems to have been able to combine career and motherhood. Clinton was originally in favor of the Iraq War, but became critical of President Bush's war strategy after she visited Iraq in early 2005. She now favors withdrawal.

In her New Hampshire Primary victory speech, Clinton said: Over the last week, I listened to you and in the process, I found my own voice.

What It Means
Clinton, like Obama, is classified as a Hard-Core Liberal. Even so, there are significant differences in their campaigns. Clinton is older and has a history of success and failure that can be evaluated or scrutinized. Clinton is married to a former president who is campaigning on her behalf, and who would join her in the White House and probably have some political influence with her. The Bill Clinton presidency, although scandalous, was a golden era of balanced budgets and relative prosperity. Hillary Clinton is not charismatic like Obama (or like her husband). Clinton has dedicated herself to improving healthcare since the 1990's and wants to be known as the Healthcare President: this could be her legacy because many Americans lack health insurance or lack adequate coverage.

What It Lacks
Although Clinton chose to stay married to her unfaithful husband, some Americans divorced him. Yes, he enjoys a certain popularity and has made a lot of money from his speeches. But, that does not mean people want him back in the White House. Clinton states she coped with her husband's behavior through counselling and by reading the Psalms. She keeps her religious life very private, but she could reveal a deeper dimension to her personality if she discussed her growth and insight. And, perhaps of greater significance for voters is whether or not her husband got any counselling.

Clinton originally favored the Iraq War, then favored withdrawal. Moreover, she seemed to accuse of General Petraeus of lying. In the article, "The Surge Effect," Fred Barnes wrote:

Hillary Clinton's response was equally amazing because she passed up a chance to disown her indefensible suggestion last September that General Petraeus was lying about the surge's success. At a Senate hearing, she told him that believing his testimony required the "willing suspension of disbelief." Asked if she still feels that way, Clinton said, "That's right."

This level of denial about the surge among Democrats is politically dangerous. Democratic voters may be immune to the surge effect, but independents are not. If the surge continues to bring stability to Iraq, independents--who produced the Democratic triumph in the 2006 election--almost certainly will begin to shift their support. They have no partisan commitment to defeat in Iraq. Like most Americans, they prefer victory.
[End of quotes.]

Unlike Senator Joe Lieberman who maintained support for the war while other Democrats were changing their minds, Clinton went back to the Hard-Core Liberal stance. And, like Obama, she will not admit that victory is possible or that General Petraeus was right. This entrenchment and obstinacy is similar to Bush's--Obama, Clinton, and Bush all seem to have this quality in common when it comes to admitting to any errors in their assessments of Iraq.

Clinton states that she found her voice in the New Hampshire Primary process. She listened to others. If this is true, then what was she doing before? Was she not listening? Was she not herself? Does this nullify the past political experience on which she bases her qualifications for president? At age 60, however, it would not be surprising for a woman of her generation to find her voice later in life. To use the word change again, conditions have changed for women over the past 60 years. Although Clinton had educational advantages, she grew up in a time-period of limited opportunities for women and is now a running for president in a very different world. It is possible that she has gained new insight. Adler wrote:

Individual Psychology finds its firm rational field of activity in the manner in which the always unique individual behaves towards the changing problems of life. Decisive for his behavior is the individual's opinion of himself and of the environment with which he has to cope.
[End of quote.]

Whereas Obama seems to cope by reincarnating messages of the past into his own personality (while campaigning on a platform of change), Clinton seems to cope through acquisition of a voice for 2008 (while campaigning on a platform of experience). If the New Hampshire Primary was truly a transformational point for Clinton, then this can serve her well in striving for success and legacy. In our post-9/11 environment, however, that voice must be not only caring enough to protect women and children, but also tough enough to act as Commander-in-Chief of the entire nation. That means really listening to people like General Petraeus.

If Clinton were to expand her healthcare platform to include mental health, substance abuse, and the care of returning Iraq War veterans, she could possibly create a voter movement of caretaker professionals as well as reinstate her standing with military personnel and their families. Additionally, if she further expanded substance-abuse treatment to include the war on drugs, by strengthening border enforcement which would also strengthen national sovereignty, she could possibly attract a voter movement of crossover Independents and the undecided.


Photos (Scroll down photo page)
Very few photos appear on the Hunter campaign website. His leading banner, H-1, is technically poor. There is a head-photo of Hunter with half of his face obscured by shadow. His hair seems unkempt, he is not really smiling, and part of his chin is cut off. The background behind his head is black, and this changes to red for the banner slogan area to the right of his head. It is as though Hunter, as a personality, is non-existent.

Photo H-2 shows Hunter on the campaign trail, making phone calls and ordering a meal in a coffee shop. Hunter is a solitary figure: no reporters, no staff, no security guards, no voters, and seemingly no family support.

Hunter has no slogan on his campaign website. However, in 2006 he raised campaign money under the Peace Through Strength PAC. Hunter is the Honorary Chairman of this organization.

Hunter has probably been the most issue-oriented candidate among both Republicans and Democrats. He has been particularly sensitive to national defense, illegal immigration and border enforcement, and foreign trade. Hunter is both down-to-earth and authoritative, with thoughtful solutions to real problems and without any political correctness or campaign spin. However, he seems to have difficulty reaching out to voters with genuine emotion or charisma. His campaign lacks money, the media ignores him, and he has never gained political momentum.

Hunter is a 59-year-old, Republican Congressman from California. He is a Vietnam War veteran, having served in the Army Rangers. He used his G.I. Bill to graduate from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law (San Diego). He is married and has two sons, one of whom served two tours in Iraq as a Marine. Hunter built a border fence in San Diego County, and if elected president his goal is to build a 754-mile double-layered fence in one year. Hunter has always been supportive of the Iraq War.

Hunter recently told a reporter: My motto in politics is never complain. My trademark for 26 years has been, "Don't whine. Keep working."

What It Means
Hunter is a sort of absentee candidate. He is there, and yet not there. He is classified as a Hard-Core Conservative. He regards himself as a true Reaganite conservative, and it would seem logical that his views should automatically appeal to traditional Republicans. He is a doer. He built a border fence. He supports the Iraq War, favors traditional marriage, opposes abortion, and wants to maintain the Patriot Act. Despite having been excluded from the Republican debates by ABC and FOX, he continues on the campaign trail while other candidates have dropped out. What keeps him going? Why do Republicans not rally around him? What does it mean?

It could mean that the Republican Party does not really want to restore the Ronald Reagan era. Unlike Democrats who seem divided between nostalgia for the Kennedy or Bill Clinton eras, Republicans are splintered among different views regarding taxation and spending, family values, and homeland security and the war on terrorism. Democrats are divided between two legitimate expressions of their Party: a civil rights approach, and a jobs and healthcare approach. Republicans, however, are fragmented within the very body of their conservative principles. Each candidate (except Hunter and perhaps Fred Thompson), expresses a portion of that body, but then adopts other views or strategies as well. Republicans constantly talk about Reagan and seem to use him as a standard, but none of the major candidates follows a strictly Reaganite philosophy of government.

What It Lacks
Emotion, organization, money, media coverage.

The example of Hunter shows how important personality is to the American people and to the American political process. Voters want more than a candidate's record and a plan. There are probably complicated variables as to why Hunter's campaign has not been successful, but lack of emotional expression might be one of them. Adler wrote that thought and emotion could not be separated. Hunter was never rounded-out as an interesting personality. Voters can agree or disagree with him, but nobody can really discuss his humanity. Because of this, the "development and welfare of mankind" will not move forward in the unique way that only Hunter could have accomplished.


If a Republican president is elected, that president will not be practicing Reaganite conservatism (assuming Thompson drops out). The next Republican will face the challenge of striving for success within his own version of conservative philosophy. If a Democrat president is elected, that president will probably try to re-create his or her ideal of a golden past, but may also have to change or modify that philosophy in order to survive terrorism. Obama has found his moment, Clinton has found her voice, and now the Republicans must find their own awareness. There can be only one winner. The losers will do well if they don't whine and keep working. (Written 01/14/08: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland