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Obama plays on voters’ psychological state



Published: Wed, October 27, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON

According to President Barack Obama, Americans are angry, frustrated, scared, anxious, uncertain, nervous, discouraged and shaken up.

They’re also confused and not thinking clearly.

Heading into critical midterm elections, Obama has been freely sharing this gloomy diagnosis on the campaign trail, at times sounding more like a psychiatrist than a politician. He usually couples it with a reminder that the country’s been through tough times before and is resilient enough to bounce back, and an appeal to voters to “choose hope over fear.”

Obama’s dreary assessment appears to be an attempt to empathize with voters in a time of acute economic anxiety. It also can serve as an explanation about why voters haven’t embraced his agenda — and why they look poised to deliver a drubbing to Democrats on Tuesday.

Americans would be more supportive of his policies, the president suggests, if they weren’t fettered by anxiety he accuses the GOP of stoking. And the descriptions of angst from a president criticized as overly cerebral and aloof also allow him to attempt to show he feels voters’ pain — even if he can’t cure it.

So the president who campaigned on hope and change now sometimes sounds more like he’s diagnosing depression than offering inspiration.

“People out there are still hurting very badly, and they are still scared,” Obama said recently at a Boston fundraiser. “And so part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now, and facts and science and argument does not seem to be winning the day all the time, is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared.”

Obama isn’t the first president to play psychiatrist-in-chief and put the country on the couch.

Jimmy Carter famously declared that a “crisis of confidence” was threatening to destroy the nation. Bill Clinton said, “I feel your pain.” Franklin D. Roosevelt used his “Fireside Chat” radio addresses to speak to voters’ anxieties and try to coax support for his policies during the Great Depression.


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