Political Dreaming: Dreams of the 1992 Presidential Election

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton argued that he would be an agent of change as President.  In people’s dreams Clinton often did appear as a force for change–but also as a person who is somewhat unknown, and perhaps unaware of what true changes need to be made.  Patty is a young woman working in a Chicago accounting firm.  Although her job pays well, she is not happy with it; she has begun going to cooking school at night to become a chef.  She dreamed the following:

“I am on the top of a high-rise building, looking across the way into an apartment’s picture window…I am with someone I feel comfortable with, although this person’s identity is unknown to me.  Through the apartment window I see a half dozen or more owls looking out…I then look down to my right and see Bill Clinton seated beside me.  My feeling is one of slight surprise and friendliness towards him.  I immediately say, “Oh, Hi Clinton…I’m sorry but I can’t recall your first name…You know, with the continual emphasis on the name Clinton by the media…”  He responds that his name is Bill, and we exchange conversational niceties of “glad to meet you’s”, while continuing to observe the owls.”

Patty said that the dream addresses her hopes and fears about switching jobs: the dream image of Clinton embodies the concept of change.  Interestingly, Patty does not really know Clinton that well in the dream–she doesn’t recognize him at first, and when she finally does she can’t remember his first name.  It’s as if the “change” that Clinton represents is, at the present moment, an unknown factor.

Jay, a writer from Wisconsin, also dreamed of Clinton as a figure of change.  But like Patty’s dream, Jay’s dream indicates a concern that it’s hard to grasp what exactly Clinton will do–what kind of change he will bring.

“Clinton is at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago…The aquarium is extremely dark…Some sort of voting or polling is occurring which shows Bush beating him really badly.  At this point a huge, portentous voice proclaims, “Clinton will have a huge answer!”  I understand this to be a response from “God” as to what Clinton must do to win the election–what he must “sacrifice”, offer.  Then I am catapulted into the scene, into the aquarium which is now crammed with people, followers of Clinton…I, unfortunately, am attempting to make my way against the overwhelming human dream tide flowing against me…but no matter how hard I try I make no progress against such a flow of energy…I have something, some message, some warning?  It is terribly important to deliver…”

Jay felt that Clinton’s call for a “New Covenant” at the Democratic convention was an inspiring vision of a changed, renewed nation.  But, Jay also felt that Clinton the politician might not understand, or be willing to make, the frightening sacrifices that will be required to achieve those changes.

Before the Election: Skepticism

In the days leading up to the election, people’s dreams showed a strong feeling of skepticism towards politicians and the whole campaign process.  Patty dreamed that

“I am in a large public place watching political ads on a huge video screen…The ad compares two candidates to two sandwiches–comparing and contrasting.  I recall a vision of a huge “pastrami-like” sandwich.  I begin to argue with people next to me, who prefer “sandwich A” while I prefer “sandwich B”.”

Patty’s dream reflects the feeling of many voters that political ads are nothing more than slick efforts to “sell” a candidate, as if he or she were a sandwich.  Sheri, a 51-year old administrative assistant, had a dream with a similar sense of skepticism, mixed with a degree of despair about the promises of politicians.

“I’m talking to a woman I know.  She’s at my house.  Her husband, DL, is running for office.  I ask if she thinks he’ll follow through and serve the full term if I vote for him.  She says yes.”

This is the final scene of a long dream in which Sheri deals with a troubling romantic relationship.  In waking life she had been seeing a married man for many years, and while he told Sheri he was unhappy with his marriage he had in fact done nothing to end it.  Sheri felt that her dream was illustrating her reluctance to believe the words of both husbands and politicians–they won’t be “faithful” to what they’ve said.  Sheri voted for Perot and was extremely unhappy with Clinton, which makes sense given the charges about his marital infidelities and his alleged tendency to “play loose” with the truth.

After the Election: Hopes and Disappointments

For those who voted for Clinton, his victory was cause for great celebration.  Julie, the community activist from California, dreamed

“I recall being a guest for a few days at an old friend’s home and marvelling at the remodelling job she did…She was very creative, I thought.  She put in an art gallery, a meeting room, a business environment and clean, modern furnishings with ample room for growth…I am surprised and pleased.  This is more modern and forward thinking than I expected.”

Julie said that her feelings in the dream “were exactly my feelings that resulted from the election the next day. I was surprised and pleased that we are becoming more flexible, modern, clean, and socially open.”

The clearest example of a celebratory “victory dream” comes from Maggie, the Chicago artist:

“It is very dark out.  Clinton and Gore have both given their acceptance speeches and are standing side by side.  There is a spot light on them and everything but them is black.  They have one of their arms around each other–shoulder to shoulder.  Then (while keeping an arm around each other) they position themselves so that the tops of their heads touch and they are facing me–and the rest of the audience behind me.  They sing “Amazing Grace”.  I am impressed that they sing, that they have the courage to do so alone because they have pretty bad voices–and they sing flat.”

For a person like Maggie, who had never voted for the winner of a Presidential election, Clinton’s victory truly felt like an act of divine providence.

Some Clinton voters, however, felt a twinge of anxiety mixed in with their excitement.  I had been a strong supporter of Clinton during the campaign, and I was thrilled when he won the election.  However, the night after the election I had the following dream:

“I’m with my son, sitting outside a bank building.  Clinton, Gore, and two others drive up in a car.  I hope they’ll stop and say hi, but they don’t.  They smile at us, but walk by into the bank.”

When I reflected on the dream, I realized that I felt like a homeless person in it–sitting on a sidewalk with my child, asking some affluent people for a little token of recognition, only to be politely shunned.  The dream made me look beyond my election-night optimism and ask a more sober, and sobering, question: is Clinton going to ignore the voters who had supported him and head “straight to the bank” to seize the spoils of his victory?

Those who voted for candidates who did not win were, naturally, saddened and disappointed.  Rose, a retired engineer who lives outside Washington, D.C., had this somewhat mournful dream the night after the election:

“I am at the White House, I feel, a guest at a party or reception for the President, Bush…I am allowed to take a picture of the President before he goes downstairs…In one of the upper rooms is a glass case, open at the top, into which are placed a large assortment of souveniers of the President.  Guests are allowed to take these and I’m enthralled and surprised by the variety of things…I cram my souveniers into my evening purse which is small and suitable for an evening party like this.”

Rose is an independent who voted for Bush because of his strong pro-life position.  Her dream suggests that the Bush “party” is over–the time has come to celebrate his successes, gather whatever memories his supporters want to keep, and move on.

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