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The Morning After: A Reflection

Let's get the most out of it. Every Monday morning quarterback looks to see what we learned. What did that, big Tuesday game of Nov. 4 teach us? Where are we now? What's different?
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Let's get the most out of it. Every Monday morning quarterback looks to see what we learned. What did that, big Tuesday game of Nov. 4 teach us? Where are we now? What's different?

Lots of things. Important ones. For one, a mind-set reversal in the American psyche of 180 degrees-from hopelessness and cynicism to hope and admiration. In one quick day.

Why? And what does it mean?

First, let us acknowledge a new medium, a new source of opinion. In 1964 it became taboo for mental health professionals to enter this area of dialogue, when a group of 1100 psychiatrists offered a diagnostic opinion on the mental state of Barry Goldwater, declaring him unfit for the Presidency. The uproar that followed was justified. Diagnosis from afar, of a subject who did not ask for it, is unprofessional, invalid and uncalled for.

But a lot of water has flown under that bridge in the 50 years since then. And a continued distancing of mental health specialists from entering the discussion of the mental status of the public, or the mental effects of debates and positions that affect the public, is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. A valid source of information and guidance is unnecessarily lost. The steady advance of global warming, for example, in relation of the inertia of the public, is case in point. The irrationality of denial, apropos this and many other social issues, can be vastly self-destructive.

While pronouncements on the private mind of an individual are off limits, this is not the case with the barrage of views and interactions of public figures on issues that directly impinge on the national sense of security and well-being, or tensions and insecurities that can lead either to apathy or panic. There is periodically an avalanche of crises and experiences, all in the public domain, that not only permit the opinions of relevant professionals but demand them.

That being said, what is the status of the Presidency today, overnight, the day after the election? How is the patient, the American public, the morning after? Has there been a turn?

Here are some of the major immediate differences.

One is that we will now have a thoughtful President. What, is that a big deal? You would think that goes without saying. But wait a minute; that is not automatic. We have not had one for let's say 8 years.

I mean "thoughtful" in a professional sense, as an evaluation of the process of thinking by the scientific discipline whose business it is to assess the mind and the brain, the organs of thinking, feeling, judging and doing. I mean "thought' in an examined sense, an automatic, built-in, ongoing process that is reliable, constant, controlled and predictable. This would be fused with the reality principle, and accompanied by an awareness of the consequentiality of one's acts. "If I do this, such and such will follow".

In American politics, it has been customary, since the Democratic conventions of 1952 and 1956, to say that the country would never elect an Adlai Stevenson. He was too smart, too articulate, too rational. A military man, a charismatic figure, a Dwight Eisenhower would always be a shoe-in. This has not been literal, and has not always been put to the test, but the present election brought that to the fore, and this time was witness to a change. The brilliance, articulateness and thought processes of the winner have never been clearer. To try to turn this against him--the label "elite" was injected and tried--did not work. The electorate appreciated his mind and character. He remained "graceful" to most.

There are a number of uncanny parallels to the Stevenson era. At the 1952 Democratic convention in Chicago, Stevenson, as Governor of the host state of Illinois, was assigned to give the welcoming address to the delegates. It was the stirring and witty speech he delivered that electrified the nation and helped stampede his nomination. Not unlike the convention speech that catapulted the present political figure from the same state of Illinois on to the national stage half a century later. Further analogous to Obama-against whom they first tried the label of Chicago machine politician-Stevenson was labelled an "egghead" by a powerful Republican, based on his baldness and intellectual air-a bit more imaginative than McCain's "elite". Wit that he was, in a speech after that, Stevenson quipped "eggheads of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your yolks!".

The second radical change in atmosphere, we will now have a President who is rational. That too, will unfortunately be something new. The one we have had revealed a questionable if not faulty capacity for rational judgment. "Mission accomplished", he announced on an aircraft carrier in March, 2003, 6 weeks after he had started a War, which has gone on for 5 more years with no end in sight. And a very costly War. And Obama's rival for the Presidency, John McCain, who would replace the present President, declares the economy strong as it plunges into the worst recession in recent times. Obama's assessments are rational and objective by comparison. After the election, the country, indeed the world, feels safer and more secure.

And third, we will now have a President whom we can expect to be honest. The present one initiated a War on the basis of declared facts which were false. There were no weapons of mass destruction which he had announced were the justification for the Iraq invasion, and it has been shown that President Bush knew that. And Obama's opponent for the Presidency, who campaigned as "the straight-talker", performed actions that directly belied the truthfulness of his assertions. He would rather lose an election than do disservice to his country, he announces, then nominates a doubtful, inexperienced person to be next in line for the Presidency, but one who might shake up and energize his campaign.

"Let's be honest", Larry King asked McCain, "did you really think Obama is a Socialist?" The answer he received was not an answer, but something else. "Obama was not like the American people, Not what they wanted. The people have a right to know what he is".

There are three major inputs to the science of character, each stemming from a psychic system in the mental apparatus, cognitive, emotional and moral. Where the present President left much to be desired in all three aspects, intellect, reason and integrity, the next occupant of the office, with opposite traits, has already brought forth a mood not only of reassurance but jubilation, not only in this country but in the world. America is again admired.

More than reassure, this election has inspired. On top of these assets of character, which would have been enough, a barrier never considered passable has been breached, and by a resounding vote. Nor has the Bradley effect been in evidence to indicate a significant cover-up of an underlying ambivalence. The individual chosen to carry this new banner, culminating a long, open process of lively competition, was the first African-American in history.

The electorate this time came out with high marks. It resisted polemics and hyperbole, and hued to the line that hovered closest to the facts. It grew, matured, and rose to a higher bar than ever in the past. This was not the passive national population of 2004 and 2000. A qualitative as well as demographic change was at the base of the monumental datum and breakthrough that this election blazoned to the world. That was how it performed the self-therapeutic task of crossing the 200-year-old inbred affective prejudice that was consciously unacceptable during its entire life.

Obama brought out increased judgment and maturity across many segments of the population, in the young, who started out as citizens less encumbered than in the past, the more educated and less educated, the middle class and those who will have to pay more taxes, minorities, and many who crossed party lines. This was a voting block whose judgment was directed to reason and civility. Gentlemanliness and rationality paid off in the end.

The signs of the future are already in evidence. To ambivalent statements made by Ahmedabad after the election, "this is not something to approach with a knee-jerk reaction", Obama comments. It does not matter what his opponents might have clamored about during the heat of a campaign. Whether Obama would negotiate with Iran with or without a prepared protocol, we know, and always knew, he would approach that country with intelligence, care and our interests uppermost. And we still know that. And we know that about every transaction and decision he will face for us in the next 4 years.

But this is no time to end the analysis--and no signal for complacency. Taking a cue from the psychology of an individual, a mood of exhilaration is not a stable point at which to walk away. Each phase needs to be anticipated and demands to be understood. Given this is a new voting bloc of many millions, it cannot be considered fixed and permanent. The values and aims that make up character are in constant oscillation. Leaders and followers who make our country are in a continuous state of interaction and mutual influence. Crises and issues are the order of the day, and require continued vigilance and defense.

The composite judgment of many millions of people can never be taken for granted. During one of Adlai's Stevenson's presidential campaigns, when wooing working-class voters, a supporter told him that he was sure to "get the vote of every thinking man" in the United States. To which Stevenson is said to have replied, "Thank you, but I need a majority to win."

Nor are the new divisions partisan ones. The lines of demarcation that have evolved need to be defined and maintained. They extend across party lines and ethnic borders. The constructive and destructive aspects of personality reside in every human being, and need to be influenced in each individual in every culture to weigh more toward the positive instincts. Integrity is sought and admired by everyone, and is countered by the same forces of personal gain in all people throughout life. "From good to evil", writes Solzhenitsyn, "is one quaver. If it were only so simple. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

McCain made a warm and sincere concession speech. And the Bushes hosted the Obamas into their future home in the most gracious manner. Even Cheney was proper to Biden. McCain will return to the Senate, and Bush to his ranch, and both will do well.