Obama on the Couch

Obama on the Couch

Inside the Mind of the President

Book - 2011 | 1st Free Press hardcover ed.
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Even though he's three years into his term as President, many Americans feel like they don't know the "real" Barack Obama. From the idealistic campaigner who seemed to share our dreams, and who promised to fulfill our lofty expectations, to pragmatic politician who has repeatedly compromised on the promises of his campaign, it indeed seems as though there are two Obamas. What to make of this? How can the electorate get a better sense of its commander-in-chief, and how can the President more effectively lead a nation in a moment of turmoil and crisis? These questions are of great interest to most Americans, but the questions - and their potential answers - are especially intriguing for a psychiatrist eager to diagnose and help cure the ills that plague our country. Here, Justin Frank, M.D. ,a practicing psychoanalyst and the author of the New York Times bestseller Bush on the Couch - brings a new patient into his office, and the results of his sessions are not only fascinating, but they provide valuable insights that will help readers in their frustrating pursuit of the President's character.

Obama's transformation over the course of his brief but incredibly well-examined political career has left some supporters disillusioned and has further frustrated opponents. To explore this change in behavior, and Obama's seeming inability to manage the response to his actions, Dr. Frank delves into his past, in particular, the President's turbulent childhood, to paint a portrait of a mixed-race child who experienced identity issues early in life, further complicated by his father's abandonment. As he addresses everything from Obama's approach to health care reform, his handling of the Gulf Oil spill, to his Middle East strategies, Dr. Frank argues that the President's decisions are motivated by inner forces - in particular, he focuses on Obama's overwhelming need to establish consensus, which can occasionally undermine his personal--and his party's--objectives. By examining the President's memoirs, his speeches, and his demeanor in public, Dr. Frank identifies the basis for some of his confusing or self-defeating behavior. Most significantly, he looks at the President's upbringing and explores the ways in which it has shaped him--and what this means for our nation and its future.

Obama is a complex and mysterious figure who inspires many questions and great interest from Republicans, Democrats, and from the rabid 24-hour news cyc≤ this book provides what everyone's been looking for: an intriguing and provocative assessment of the President's strengths, weaknesses, and even what could be called his destructive tendencies, ultimately drawing connections that will enable readers to interpret recent history in revealing new ways.

As Obama's first term comes to a close, speculation about the future will only grow more intense; Obama on the Couch will give average citizens and pundits alike a way to help all of us anticipate what the President will do next--and what the future of our country might hold.
Publisher: New York : Free Press, 2011.
Edition: 1st Free Press hardcover ed.
ISBN: 9781451620634
Branch Call Number: 973.932 FRANK
Characteristics: ix, 269 p. ; 24 cm.


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Nov 08, 2011

This book required a lot of tolerance from me but had some interesting things to say. The author is a psychoanalyst and previously wrote a book titled "Bush on the Couch". Both books apply the theories of Sigmund Freud & Melanie Klein to political figures and even voters.

Some of it was hard for this non-Freudian and non-Kleinian to accept. For instance, the author maintains that by killing Osama Bin Laden, Obama killed a man who embodied some of his parents' most hateful attributes and that enabled him to be decisive and at peace with his "murderous" decision. The psychoanalyst thinks that Obama has unexpressed rage against his mother for not raising him herself throughout his childhood and that he identifies with her to avoid his rage and thus turns around and disappoints others (as she disappointed him), in this case, Obama disappoints his left wing supporters. He may also sometimes be unconsciously identifying with his father who also frequently disappointed and subsequently abandoned his family. According to psychoanalytic theory, Obama's psychological need to reconcile the various wings of his family and the various aspects of himself (including his biraciality) leads Obama to work too hard to compromise with his opposition. This, the author believes, leads Obama to gravely minimize the risk of the Tea Party, the Birthers, and the racist haters.

More acceptable to me were some other ideas. Obama's childhood was marked by three major absences or losses that may have felt like desertions to a child. His natural father, his stepfather, and his mother all went in and out of his life at a fairly rapid pace. Thus change to him was often an emotionally wrought occurrence that he handled by being intellectual, curious, and calm. But these life events may make him actually somewhat unconsciously anti-change. This is a surprise considering the motto of his 2008 campaign: Change We Can Believe In. The author feels that Obama is good about talking about change but is less effective in the follow-through.

Although it's clear that the author respects and likes Obama, he sometimes compliments and critiques the same behavior. For instance, although he likes how smart and deliberative this President is, he also feels that his calm demeanor is more accurately described as a kind of paralyzed dissociation. His belief in bipartisanship is like trying to reunite his family, trying to unite the black and white people. Although the author is highly appreciative of the President's writing skills, he also believes that Obama has a belief in the "magical power of words", sometimes to the detriment of actions. However, he was in awe of Obama's speech on race, writing that he perceived Obama in that speech as functioning as the nation's master psychologist.


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