The Presidential Rorschach Test

In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote: "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."

As a campaign strategy, the Blank Screen candidacy was wildly successful. After all, how does one debate a blank screen? Did you ever try to have a substantive discussion with a blank screen voter? Like many of you, I have vivid memories of friends, neighbors and relatives explaining their support of Candidate Blank Screen with arguments as substantive (and overly sweet) as cotton candy:

I believe he'll finally bring all of us together.
I believe he'll bring fairness and equality to America.
I believe he'll bring racial healing.
I believe through him the world will love us.

What do all of these statements have in common? They start with "I." After nearly two years, I have concluded that Obama's win says little about him, because he was a blank screen. There was no there there. Yet all those voters saw these amazing, superhuman possibilities in this candidate. Obama's victory tells us much more about his voters than about him.

When I studied psychiatric nursing, I learned about an interesting tool called the Rorschach test. Developed in 1921, the test consists of a psychiatric examiner showing ten inkblots to a patient and asking him "What might this be?" The patient's responses are scored using complex mathematical equations. This data is used to help the examiner evaluate the personality and emotional functioning of the patient.

In 2008, over 66 million people took a presidential Rorschach test. They looked at the inkblot that was Barack Obama and interpreted for themselves what an Obama presidency would mean. David Brooks gazed at the inkblot and saw the president of his dreams:

With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered. He could gather -- already has gathered -- some of the smartest minds in public policy, and, untroubled by intellectual insecurity, he could give them free rein. Though he is young, it is easy to imagine him at the Cabinet table, leading a subtle discussion of some long-term problem.

Christopher Buckley interpreted the inkblot as having a "first-class temperament and a first-class intellect." The Rorschach test gave Chris Matthews a "thrill up his leg." This sort of visions was not limited to the media and intelligentsia, of course. I received an e-mail from an acquaintance during the transition after the election. She was describing the difficulties she experienced renewing her passport and concluded with "Hopefully, now that Obama has been elected things will be run much better!"

How in the world did she see a managerial wizard in the Inkblot Candidate? There was no actual evidence -- zilch, zero, nada -- of any leadership abilities. Yet she stared at the inkblot and found Mitt Romney. 

It's almost humorous, eighteen months into the Blank Screen Presidency, to watch the bewilderment of Obama's supporters. Spike Lee can't understand why he just doesn't "one time, go off!" Bill Maher lamented that Obama has not been a "real black president" -- you know, the kind that "lifts up his shirt so they can see the gun in his pants." How could the smartest man to ever become president screw everything up so badly? Those who saw extraordinary leadership qualities in the inkblot cannot understand the inept administration response to the Gulf oil spill. Voters who discerned a president full of empathy for all can't explain the numerous golf outings, concerts, and vacations while the Louisiana coast and its wildlife drown in oil. Obama voters never saw insurmountable debt, a nightmare health care bill, a nuclear Iran, 10% unemployment as the norm, and hoots of derision from our allies when they studied the Inkblot Candidate. But that's what they gave us with their vote.

I can almost defend President Obama. After all, he told us he was a blank screen. And a blank screen can't be expected to actually do anything. His supporters who are now angry and disappointed with him are like patients who hear the results of their Rorschach test and get furious at the inkblots.

Everything a voter needed to know to make an informed choice was easily available, because no matter what Obama claimed, he wasn't a blank screen. I'll never forget poor Sean Hannity begging America and the mainstream media to consider President Obama's associations with William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. The response he received was a yawn as the elites returned to gazing upon the Inkblot Candidate. Being able to say "I told you so" now must be very cold comfort.

In 2008, America treated the election like a parlor game at a cocktail party. "If you could have any kind of president you like, what kind would you vote for?" the media and political aristocracy asked each other. They painted a beautiful portrait of a brilliant, articulate, empathetic, African-American leader, and then they found all those qualities in Obama's inkblot. Then they made that inkblot President of the United States. 

It's time for America to examine its test results.

Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.
In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote: "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views."

As a campaign strategy, the Blank Screen candidacy was wildly successful. After all, how does one debate a blank screen? Did you ever try to have a substantive discussion with a blank screen voter? Like many of you, I have vivid memories of friends, neighbors and relatives explaining their support of Candidate Blank Screen with arguments as substantive (and overly sweet) as cotton candy:

I believe he'll finally bring all of us together.
I believe he'll bring fairness and equality to America.
I believe he'll bring racial healing.
I believe through him the world will love us.

What do all of these statements have in common? They start with "I." After nearly two years, I have concluded that Obama's win says little about him, because he was a blank screen. There was no there there. Yet all those voters saw these amazing, superhuman possibilities in this candidate. Obama's victory tells us much more about his voters than about him.

When I studied psychiatric nursing, I learned about an interesting tool called the Rorschach test. Developed in 1921, the test consists of a psychiatric examiner showing ten inkblots to a patient and asking him "What might this be?" The patient's responses are scored using complex mathematical equations. This data is used to help the examiner evaluate the personality and emotional functioning of the patient.

In 2008, over 66 million people took a presidential Rorschach test. They looked at the inkblot that was Barack Obama and interpreted for themselves what an Obama presidency would mean. David Brooks gazed at the inkblot and saw the president of his dreams:

With that cool manner, he would see reality unfiltered. He could gather -- already has gathered -- some of the smartest minds in public policy, and, untroubled by intellectual insecurity, he could give them free rein. Though he is young, it is easy to imagine him at the Cabinet table, leading a subtle discussion of some long-term problem.

Christopher Buckley interpreted the inkblot as having a "first-class temperament and a first-class intellect." The Rorschach test gave Chris Matthews a "thrill up his leg." This sort of visions was not limited to the media and intelligentsia, of course. I received an e-mail from an acquaintance during the transition after the election. She was describing the difficulties she experienced renewing her passport and concluded with "Hopefully, now that Obama has been elected things will be run much better!"

How in the world did she see a managerial wizard in the Inkblot Candidate? There was no actual evidence -- zilch, zero, nada -- of any leadership abilities. Yet she stared at the inkblot and found Mitt Romney. 

It's almost humorous, eighteen months into the Blank Screen Presidency, to watch the bewilderment of Obama's supporters. Spike Lee can't understand why he just doesn't "one time, go off!" Bill Maher lamented that Obama has not been a "real black president" -- you know, the kind that "lifts up his shirt so they can see the gun in his pants." How could the smartest man to ever become president screw everything up so badly? Those who saw extraordinary leadership qualities in the inkblot cannot understand the inept administration response to the Gulf oil spill. Voters who discerned a president full of empathy for all can't explain the numerous golf outings, concerts, and vacations while the Louisiana coast and its wildlife drown in oil. Obama voters never saw insurmountable debt, a nightmare health care bill, a nuclear Iran, 10% unemployment as the norm, and hoots of derision from our allies when they studied the Inkblot Candidate. But that's what they gave us with their vote.

I can almost defend President Obama. After all, he told us he was a blank screen. And a blank screen can't be expected to actually do anything. His supporters who are now angry and disappointed with him are like patients who hear the results of their Rorschach test and get furious at the inkblots.

Everything a voter needed to know to make an informed choice was easily available, because no matter what Obama claimed, he wasn't a blank screen. I'll never forget poor Sean Hannity begging America and the mainstream media to consider President Obama's associations with William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. The response he received was a yawn as the elites returned to gazing upon the Inkblot Candidate. Being able to say "I told you so" now must be very cold comfort.

In 2008, America treated the election like a parlor game at a cocktail party. "If you could have any kind of president you like, what kind would you vote for?" the media and political aristocracy asked each other. They painted a beautiful portrait of a brilliant, articulate, empathetic, African-American leader, and then they found all those qualities in Obama's inkblot. Then they made that inkblot President of the United States. 

It's time for America to examine its test results.

Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.

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