The Political Psychology of Barack Obama

On Monday, President Obama suggested that the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico would shape environmental and energy policy in the same dramatic way that the terrorist acts of 9/11 shaped our foreign policy. His comment was more than illuminating, from a psychological perspective: It was a clear glimpse of the way the President thinks and the way he hopes that Americans will think.

Despite the qualifying language about shaping policy in very different arenas, President Obama was essentially equating the actions of British Petroleum, which may or may not include extreme negligence, with the deliberate murder of thousands of Americans by Islamic extremists who would like to kill all Americans in a Holy War. In so doing he is suggesting (perhaps because he believes it) that the actions of corporations in jeopardizing our natural resources are just as violent and just as offensive to him as the actions of al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.

This view from the president is very much in line with his extreme distrust of industry and his obvious belief that government control is the people’s only hope for protection from evil corporations. It is consistent with his apparent vision of himself as the force bringing equilibrium to an American psyche he seems to believe is wrongly focused on enemies outside our gates when equal or greater enemies are within our gates. It is as if he is echoing the rallying cry, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

The president is like a doctor who would argue not to worry much about being shot by the gunman outside the hospital, since you have cancer to worry about. No one can do you more harm than your body’s own pathology (or that of the body politic, if you will.) The president’s most recent comment adds fuel (pun intended) to his seeming desire to help us shed this national pathology — our collective narcissism — and accept ourselves as the vile lot we are: a nation of sinners whose love of consumerism and blind pursuit of the American dream has us tripping and spilling black blood all over ourselves, in quantities equal to, or greater than, the volume of red blood spilled by terrorists.

In addition to our vulnerability to hurt ourselves by, well, being ourselves, the president apparently worries that our support of staunch allies like Israel and Great Britain is toxic to our best interests and to those of the “oppressed.” We Americans just can’t get it right, and he knows it and can help us repent.

President Obama is acting the part of an overactive superego — harshly judging America from within our own boundaries, holding up a mirror and suggesting that it is a window on the greatest risks we face.

The president is overreaching here, and by a lot. BP is not Al Qaeda. An oil spill is a horrifying tragedy that must be investigated, but it is not an act of war. We really do have outside enemies who hate our way of life and want us to die. And as inept as industry attempts to stop the oil spill seem to have been, they are not aimed at destabilizing our government and setting the stage for genocide.

A cultural mirror can be a good thing. We should, of course, look in one, time-to-time, as America’s history unfolds. Self-criticism has its place. But in this dangerous world, in this perilous time, it’s best to sit closer to a window on the forces outside our way of life that seek to destroy it.

Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, “Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty” has launched a new self-help movement including Dr. Ablow can be reached at