What Obama’s Weird Dreams Say About The President’s Legacy


For eight years, Americans have dreamed of Barack Obama, and not only in an ambitious sense. At every step of his presidential journey, people across the United States have seen him in their sleep – in rapturous fantasies, makeover nightmares, and all kinds of weird situations in between.

This phenomenon was first revealed during the 2008 primaries, when novelist Sheila Heti solicited dreams about Democratic candidates on a website called The Metaphysical Poll. As hundreds of dreamers submitted reports, Obama’s dreams gradually outnumbered Hillary Clinton’s dreams and painted a glowing portrait of the Illinois senator. Dream Obama was a loyal husband and generous friend, a cool-headed decision maker and a hot lover.

“At a time when no one knew who would win the Democratic primaries, I was sure it would be Obama,” Heti recalls. “I had seen the dreams.”

She closed the metaphysical poll on June 10, 2008, three days after Obama became the alleged Democratic candidate. But the spirit of the site lives on in the work of Kelly Bulkeley, a religious psychologist at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. By completing American dreamers, a book about the dream life of American voters, Bulkeley has become an enthusiastic supporter of Heti’s project. In 2009, he launched his own Sleep and Dream database, a digital archive where he has continued to collect Obama’s dreams for the past eight years, amassing the largest curated collection on the internet.

With every sleepy glance from this former “dream candidate,” Bulkeley obtained new evidence to support his belief, developed in more than 20 books, that there is “an outward-looking, outward-oriented dimension of dreaming. on culture ”. This is a new concept in the history of dream research, where psychologists dating back to Freud have generally viewed dreams as egocentric, with little relevance outside of the personal wishes of the dreamer. Bulkeley and other contemporary researchers see it differently. They argue that one person’s dreams, compared to those of others on a sufficiently large scale, can also have collective meaning, reflecting concerns shared by communities.

Obama’s nighttime cameos throughout his presidency served as an exciting test for this society-oriented dream theory, and the internet dream banks provided the data to back it up.

Throughout much of American history, the most reliable evidence people dream of about the country’s political system has come from those who ruled it. John Adams and Benjamin Rush used to analyze each other’s dreams to gain insight into their political rivals. Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson reported recurring nightmares during their years in office.

When the first sleep labs opened in the 1950s, researchers were able to begin documenting the political dreams of ordinary citizens. Now, between Bulkeley’s database and the online Dream Bank run by psychologist G. William Domhoff, you can find historical dream reports on every sitting president since WWII. Harry Truman looks sneaky in the sleepy streets of the Midwest. LBJ ruins delicious sexual dreams. Dreams about politicians can be studied in unprecedented numbers and researched with unprecedented speed.

When Bulkeley launched his database in 2009, he archived 100 Obama dreams on Heti’s site. Eight and two years later, Obama continues to appear among the more than 20,000 dream reports on the site, appearing in dream journals, opinion polls and psychological experiments. These carefully verified entries, mostly from academic sources, are considerably more reliable than Obama’s Dreams on user-generated sites like YouTube, Reddit, and Dreamjournal.net, which, however numerous they are, have not been recorded from. transparent and systematic way. For every Bulkeley’s database dreamer who has shared a steamy Oval Office date, there may be other Americans who are too shy or forgetful to accurately record theirs.

If assembled scrupulously and supplemented with information about the dreamers, Obama’s dreams have the potential to offer a “fine, uncontrolled example of how the president was imagined,” says Gary Alan Fine, a sociologist at the ‘Northwestern University. Fine studies the historical reputation of American public figures and shares Bulkeley’s belief that dreams are more than mere reflections of oneself. When historians look to Obama’s dreams in the years to come, it will not be for their “esoteric symbolism,” he predicts, but for what “dreams tell us about American politics.”

Though outnumbered by the Tories in the electorate, the Liberals seem to dominate the nation’s dream life. Dream poll volunteers typically lean to the left of center, and an intriguing body of research shows that liberals are more active dreamers than conservatives. In a 2011 study for the journal Dream, For example, Bulkeley interviewed thousands of American adults who identified themselves as conservatives or liberals and found that his conservative subjects were, in the words of the study, “slightly better sleepers and relatively minimal dreamers,” while that its liberal participants had higher rates of recall of dreams and “larger” dreams.

Obama’s dreams in his Sleep and Dreams database reflect these trends, vividly documenting the evolution of Liberal views on the president over the past eight years. In early dreams, Obama is a figure of messianic powers, resolving differences, levitating objects, and, in a strangely prophetic dream, pulling Osama bin Laden’s fingers out with his teeth. Towards the mid-sessions of 2010, he began to succumb to the political crises that dreamers followed in the news. A 54-year-old woman from Washington State dreams of a sinister plot involving “GM and the big oil companies,” who organize the BP oil spill to make Obama look bad. A 2011 report shows a 50-year-old dreamer reacting to news that his wife “doesn’t think she loves Obama anymore.”

Obama continues to struggle in the dreams of his second term. He is insulted at social gatherings and shows up for a “crippled and wheelchair-bound” speech. But even though Obama has been worn down by the rigors of the presidency, Bulkeley’s liberal subjects have maintained their attachment to the man behind the institution. They dream of drinking beers with him at parties. They dream of meeting him for lunch. As one of Bulkeley’s longtime subjects, an East Coast Liberal, put it in a 2015 dream report: “[Obama] recognizes my presence somehow. … His presence is strong.

That intimate connection was still visible in an election-themed dream survey Bulkeley commissioned with YouGov in May. Obama’s dreams appeared amidst the feverish visions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and highlighted the conflicting feelings many subjects had towards presidential candidates. Clinton’s dreams were often about a committed public servant and “a good listener,” but they “lacked the mystical halo of wonder and awe that people felt around Obama,” Bulkeley recalls. Dreams about Trump “were almost like the evil twins of Obama’s dreams”: The Republican candidate projected strength and confidence and appeared in dreams more frequently than Clinton, but dreamers on both sides of the political spectrum tended to describe it in a negative way. terms (“unsympathetic,” “a jerk,” “a delusional megalomaniac”), according to Bulkeley. In the midst of a strange and unpredictable campaign, Dream Obama was, comparatively, a calm and consistent presence.

Every dream seeker I interviewed attributed this nocturnal stamina to Obama’s visibility in the media. “Our modern global connectivity intensifies the effect of all of us seeing the same pictures,” says Deirdre Barrett, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. “These daytime experiences are the basis of our dream life.” As the first elected US president in the age of social media, Obama saw his image consumed more frequently and more widely than any of his predecessors. This raises a tantalizing question: is he the most dreamed president in American history?

This is a point “that dream research cannot yet confirm with much confidence,” Bulkeley says. There is not enough control data to compare the presidential dream across jurisdictions, and the dream is such an intimately private experience that its social dimensions will always be difficult to quantify. Online databases could potentially allow researchers to study the most esoteric dream content in large datasets and organize that data with incredible speed, but Big Dream Data is still in its infancy. For now, Bulkeley’s work remains “an inductive process”. He notices the relative frequency of certain types of dreams and then tries to amass enough dream reports to discern meaningful patterns in their content.

As I collected dream data to compare to Bulkeley’s reports, I tracked down a dozen Obama dreamers via dream boards and social media platforms: a farmer in Ohio, a daycare center in Texas and a copywriter in Los Angeles, to name a few, as well as dreamers from Australia and Canada. This was not a comprehensive study of the political dream landscape, but it did support Bulkeley’s observation, dating back to The Metaphysical Poll, that people who are willing to share their Obama dreams are mostly center-left voters with a positive opinion of the president. Even though the Americans I spoke with distanced themselves from Obama on issues like drone warfare or healthcare reform, he remained a sympathetic presence in their dreams.

He offered advice to their Republican wives. He kindly hijacked their sexual advances. He chose their outfits for important job interviews, then cooked them eggs and coffee for the road. For some dreamers, these are regular appearances, occurring once or twice a year throughout his presidency; for others, there was a unique and unforgettable encounter. In 25 years of dreaming about politicians, Bulkeley has never seen another character who more clearly supports his hypothesis that “how often a person appears in people’s dreams is a clue to their charisma. “.

Obama’s successor has his own very polarizing charisma, and Bulkeley predicts that “a lot of people over the next few years are going to have dreams and nightmares about [Trump]. Perhaps suspicious of the long nights ahead, the Obama dreamers I spoke with grew nostalgic as they revisited their sleepy encounters with the incumbent President of the United States. In Obama’s final days in power, they take the same point of view as a Bulkeley site dreamer who once watched in besieged wonder Dream Obama soar onto a shore filled with crocodiles: things he’s done, but it’s Obama, it doesn’t matter.


Kevin E. Boling

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