18 May 2008

The Roles Of Hillary And Barack by Amanda Stern

Amanda Stern is the author of The Long Haul, a book of fiction, and the creator and curator of the popular Happy Ending Music and Reading Series in New York, at which every speaker is forced to take one public risk. For two years she was a professional comic. You can visit her on the web here.

* * *

I read all the dreams in consecutive order, Hillary’s first, then Obama’s. I admittedly skipped McCain.

Obviously, these dreams collectively mirror the emotional bind the American voter is in. What else do dreams do but tell us, in coded ways, things we already know? Dreams reframe our questions – casting a nightly shroud over our daily veil of wondering. Consciously we wonder who to trust. At night our unconscious reaches out to question whether we trust ourselves. Consciously we wonder whether to vote with our gut or our head, at night we drop hints to guide us. But when we wake up, if we haven’t forgotten our dreams, we realize there are more questions to weed through than before we closed our eyes.

What do our dreams mean? Do they tell us whether we’re right or whether we’re wrong? Do our dreams really reveal things about other people, or only about ourselves? What does it mean to feel we’ve seen through Hillary or Barack, to feel guilty that we’ve chosen one over the other? What does it mean to witness a softer Hillary, an untrustworthy Barack? Or that in our dreams we’ve taken to placating Hillary because our codependent selves don’t want her to ache knowing we aren’t on her side? Does it say anything at all about the candidates or only of the dreamers?

Could it perhaps speak volumes for both?

The dreams of Hillary, by and large, were reversal dreams. The dreamer discovers that she is not who they thought she was. Although Hillary is, more often than not, cast as either maternal or matronly, she comes off, the majority of the time, better than was suspected. Obama, it seems, is more versatile, his packaging is more sexualized, variegated, open-ended. He is all things to all people. Hillary is just one or two things.

I am not a psychologist or a dream-analyst, just a fiction writer with an interest in psychology. Here goes my interpretation…


The roles people assigned Hillary in their dreams were starkly different from the roles assigned to Obama. Many women dreamed she was their therapist, their mother, their child, and in two instances, their gynecologist. In these dreams Hillary does things for people, provides for them, bakes, soothes, listens and they’re all surprised at how nurtured they feel.

When GWB was running for President, the consensus across Middle America was that he was someone they’d “like to have a beer with.” To me, and hopefully, to millions of others, this is a pretty unsound way to choose a President. Not only do I not want my President drunk, I don’t really want to feel like his equal. If I felt like his equal, I’d run for President. But what about this: maybe people’s dreams (not to take Freud at his word) are dabbling in some sort of wish-fulfillment.

Perhaps what people are longing for isn’t a president we can hang out with, but a President who can guide us, like a parent. Maybe people are starting to wonder if our President should be more parental. The dreams people are having about Hillary and Obama (in the Hillary dreams) do not necessarily ask who is the better Democrat, but who is the better role model. Which parent do we want as our leader? Our mother or our father?

Many of these dreams humanize Hillary, but in some ways, the Hillary dreams are more about the dreamers than about Hillary. In them she has a favorite pair of scuffed shoes, devours Girl Scout cookies in times of stress. Her clothing choice and her hair are mentioned quite a bit, and just like in life, she’s always fashionably out of step. Just like a lot of our mothers (not mine, though!) The dreamers have made Hillary relatable. She is not so much an object as a person with whom they derive comfort, a person they feel better about themselves for having seen through.

Hillary’s feelings are taken into account in many of these dreams. Those who are Pro-Obama take pains to cover it up in order to cushion the blow for Hillary. They don’t want to hurt her feelings, OR do things for her so they feel better about their own choices. In other words, when it comes to Hillary, there are issues of codependence that I didn’t find in dreams about Obama.

But some people just outright feel terrified to have her behind the wheel of America. A few driving dreams have her reckless and maniacal while the dreamer sits in the back seat afraid for their lives. They feel out of control, wedded to a fate that is out of their hands.

The thing about dreams and novels is how handily the author can play with plot. Many people changed course in their dreams – changed their vote in accordance to information gathered while dreaming. If Hillary is warmer than they realize, their vote sways. People seem to feel very guilty about not voting for Hillary, guilty enough that those who are aligned with Barack Obama aren’t dreaming about him, but about her. A majority of these dreamers not voting for Hillary, but dreaming about her, are women.


Unlike Hillary, the dreams of Barack Obama focused more on his celebrity, his sexual objectivity. Instead of being nurtured by him, dreamers are nurturing him. There are many dreams where he is the dreamers’ husband, boyfriend or lover. One woman dreamed Hillary is her lover, but there is no active sex – there is with Obama. With Obama the sex is explicit – he’s on top, they make out all over the city, they embrace for a long time. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama turns up as the scorned wife, or leering and suspicious partner. There are maybe two mentions of Bill Clinton in the dreams about Hillary. While Hillary is busy making pies, or doing other domestic activities in many dreams, Obama is the hero: saving people from choking, making things better for everyone somehow.

There were many dreams in which Obama is thanking the dreamer. In many of the Hillary dreams, the dreamer is thanking her.


There are two mentions of the TV show, Lost. Two people tell Obama they watch it, trying to communicate in some way, through popular culture, the truth of an unnerved country as if he will save it. Another person dreamed that Obama whispered in his ear, while they are making out, “Tell me what you want me to change, tell me what you want me to change.”

A few dreams, he’s walking ahead of people – leading while the dreamer runs to catch up.

In a fight, Obama bites off two of Bin Laden’s fingers

In another dream, Obama had been looking everywhere for sofas that are really gold, not yellow or orange. He finds his gold couch in a small, humble town and everyone there is very proud he found his jewel among these thorns.

In these dreams, the dreamer is in awe of Obama, letting him lead, wanting him to lead. The information they gather about him seems to affirm what they already believe, not challenge what they questioned, as happened in so many dreams about Hillary.


Where Hillary’s dress is amorphous and matronly, Obama’s is outrageous, cool, confident and rock-starish. He shows up onstage at a concert with green dred locks in jeans and a t-shirt, he walks to the edge of the stage, rips off his t-shirt and hi fives the entire crowd. People discover he’s an old movie star (not a good one, but a star nonetheless). Someone finds a CD of him: “Barack Obama Sings 20 Classic Love Songs.” He’s the Cary Grant of the ‘aughts. Similar to Hillary, people are discovering the hidden talents of their candidates, but unlike Hillary, Obama’s abilities are lionized, while hers are more emotionally impressive. Unlike Hillary, he’s a very good driver, however as talented as he may seem with his hands, he did not deliver a single baby.


To me, the most interesting and telling dream was of Obama showering in a clouded glass shower. He’s naked, but you can’t see him completely through the distortion. The fear here is obvious – who is this guy? He says he’s naked, but we can’t be certain because there’s a scrim of cloudiness surrounding him. If we could get through that layer, than we’d be able to see clearly, but – no, not from this angle, not from that angle. People are uncertain. They believe his words, but what of his actions? Has he done enough for us to make a decision or has he just talked enough to lead us to believe his words and actions are the same?


One dreamer dreamed they were in a serious relationship with Barack, but he suddenly stops returning her texts. This to me is pure anxiety that what Barack says now and what he does later, if he’s elected president, won’t add up.

There are a few dreams of this nature. People dreamed that he cast a spell over them, that they find themselves angry with him because is public and private personas contradict. People are afraid he’s not who he says he is, while others are wondering whether Hillary might be someone other than they think she is.

There’s a real sense of duplicity that people seem to feel. They’re wary about both candidates. Underneath the pomp of Obama they sense he might be too good to be true while with Hillary, it’s reversed. We are unable to trust ourselves enough to know which of these two we should be trusting. But why should we trust ourselves? We have no reason. No valid one, at least.


It’s a strange thing to interpret your own dreams, to wake to your primary world uncertain of the meanings created in a secondary one. Each morning we battle to understand messages we’ve sent ourselves, to untangle and interpret a coded psychological narrative that comes from within us. Sometimes what we discover is shaming or laughably obvious, but when we’re not sharing our dreams, we’re competing with ourselves to retrieve them lest they evaporate into the disgruntled dew of other forgotten dreams, or we’re dismissing or hiding them.

Reading other people’s unforgotten dreams, political or not, one after another, felt voyeuristic and prying. I discovered things about strangers they may not know about themselves. I discovered what I already knew: politically, we are all conflicted, even if we’re convinced we aren’t. We feel helpless and guilty, responsible and unresponsive. We see in our leaders our worst and best selves. We see what we don’t want to see and we don’t see what we should. And just when we think we’ve gotten it right, we kill off the person we believe can save us. We murder our only hope. We don’t know what to do and we question what’s already been done.

But I do believe that underneath the narratives is another story – one that explains what we already know. That talk and action are different. That leading with one’s heart and leading with one’s head is confusing, but that both are needed, not one or the other.

[return to Dream Analysis main page...]

No comments: