Who Does Obama Stand With? Projected Leadership Legacies

Cartoons can show us what we’re projecting onto our leaders.

Our projections are as important as a politician’s promises. We judge our leaders by our hopes and fears, and we project them onto their actions. In many ways, citizens are the ones who stand with Obama — or any politician. This Mike Luckovich cartoon shows the ways citizens  in a participatory democracy feel when supporting  a populist like Obama:

But it’s more than a feeling of participation. Supporters project their own best selves onto their candidate, matching populist rhetoric with their own values and characteristics. Candidates like Obama also generate an equally potent opposite projection of negative values and characteristics, as demonstrated by attacks on his authenticity as an American with accusations of Socialism, hidden Muslim faith, and falsified citizenship records.

Projections go beyond the personal, extending into historical mythology…

Obama’s stance for civil rights, his race, and his measured, eloquent leadership style bring him rhetorically into the company of a  great Republican leader, Abraham Lincoln. It’s a fascinating projection, containing a longing for resolution, for greatness, for a bridging intellect and courageous action. In many ways, the polarization we face today feels as divisive as the civil war Lincoln presided over.

This projection of greatness may be proven by history; as yet it is a measure of hope and anxiety.

Add in this cartoon the presence of Martin Luther King, another leader associated with freedom, strife and opposition. Now the projection expands, marking Obama and his legacy with a projection of a more contemporary civil rights battle that unified interracial communities across the nation to lift Jim Crow laws in the 1960s.

This combination marks a projected hope for freedom and celebration of kinship with courageous and authentic leaders. The tragic end of each of these great leaders also makes the projection resonate with the fears of Obama supporters, that racist threats might lead to attacks on the President’s life.

Living with projection is inevitable for any leader.

These are only a few examples of post-election cartoons that show the way Obama’s leadership bears the projections of followers. Projections of all sorts are visible in the ways people speak about the President, and can be measured in news articles, photographs, cartoons and conversations.

Whatever we might feel about the election results, we all need to pay attention to the stories we project and the ones that are projected by others. They are an important way to understand the pressures and prayers we impose on Obama, above and beyond the daily tasks of government he’s taken on in his second term.

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