Dreams as Political Pundit

For centuries, dreams have guided nations toward (or away from) their destinies. Dreams have revealed the divine plan for countries, cultures, citizens.

In the Old Testament, God spoke through dreams in both plain words and symbols. A famous political prophecy is the dream of the Egyptian Pharaoh (Genesis: 30-46): “In my dream, I stood upon the banks of a river. There stood seven fat cows. As I looked, lo! there came from out of the river, seven lean cows, and before my very eyes, they swallowed the seven fat cows, but remained as lean as before. And, then I saw seven empty ears of corn swallow seven full ears of corn, but remain just as thin as ever.”

Joseph, who became Pharaoh’s chief governor, interpreted the dream as seven years of plenty and seven of famine; he proscribed a public policy of storing food during the seven abundant years to prevent starvation during the next seven years of lack. His assessment saved the nation.

Wise Ways

In the Bible’s Book of Daniel, a dream in the second year of his reign troubled Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, famous for the magnificent gardens hanging outside his palace. He saw a gigantic statue “with the head of gold, breast and arms of silver; thighs and belly of brass, and legs of iron. The feet and toes were a mixture of iron and clay. “

Filled with hubris, Nebuchadnezzar commanded the people to worship a golden idol he commissioned. In a lesson for leaders with designs of empire, Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom crumbled and the king descended into madness.

Eventually, the King listened to the wisdom of Daniel, his court adviser, and changed his ways. After seven years, Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity returned and “the honor and glory he once possessed were restored to him.”

Around the age of 40, Muhammad, who would become a prophet and the founder of Islam, was meditating in a cave near Mecca. The angel Gabriel appeared in a dream and said, “O Muhammad, you are the messenger of Allah.” Over 23 years, in dreams and visions, Gabriel revealed to Muhammad the Qu’ran, the book of divine guidance for Muslims.

Common Sense

Ancient Greek philosopher Plato and Roman philosopher Cicero explored the ideal commonwealth in their writings. Their treatises sought to instill a desire to lead an upright, law- abiding life. Plato’s Myth of Er in his Republic and Cicero’s Dream of Scipio from De re publica are valued vehicles. Departed souls, sometimes in dreams, revealed the essence of statesmen-like virtues.

In Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, Macrobius interweaves philosophical discourse with narratives of visions and dreams. His discussion of types of dreams and their prophetic significance (derived from Artemidorus’ Onirocriticon) was one of the leading dream books of — and from — the Middle Ages.

The words of Scipio’s grandfather to Scipio Aemilianus, a philosopher and man of public affairs, in the younger’s dream ring loud in a strife torn world today. The elder suggests what is incumbent upon leaders and upon us, the citizenry:

That you may be more zealous in safeguarding the commonwealth, Scipio, be persuaded of this: all those who have saved, aided, or enlarged the commonwealth have a definite place marked off in the heavens where they may enjoy a blessed existence forever.

Nothing that occurs on earth, indeed, is more gratifying to that supreme God who rules the whole universe than the establishment of associations and federations of men bound together by principles of justice, which are called commonwealths. The governors and protectors of these proceed from here and return hither after death.

In his commentary on Scipio’s dream, Macrobius expounded: “Virtues alone make one blessed and only through them is one able to attain the name.”

Obedience to the virtues — prudence, temperance, courage, and justice — benefits the commonwealth.


Dreams have also guided generals and commanders in battle.

In 49 B.C., the night before Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River to lead his troops into Rome, he dreamed of sleeping with his mother. Caesar conquered Rome, the mother city. Before his defeat at the battle of Waterloo in June 1815, military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte dreamed of a black cat. The battle ended Napoleon’s rule as the French emperor and Waterloo became synonymous with career-ending defeat. Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman and first chancellor of the German empire (1871-1890) was so proud a dream guided him to victory over Austria he described the premonition in detail his book Thoughts and Memories.

Dream allusions are unusual in biographies of powerful contemporary political figures. It is noteworthy, therefore, an index entry in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lyndon Johnson reads “dreams and nightmares — during illness, as President, as Vice President, see also analytic insights” and more than a dozen pages of narrative text explore his dreams.

On March 31, 1968, two months after North Vietnam launched the massive Tet Offensive and faced with a divisive battle for the Democratic nomination, Johnson announced in a televised address to the nation he would not seek reelection.

Johnson’s decision came after a dream, according to historian Goodwin. In her biography, Lyndon Johnson and The American Dream (Harper and Row, 1976), she described the dream:

“He saw himself swimming in a river. He was swimming from the center toward one shore. He swam and swam, but he never seemed to get any closer. He turned around to swim to the other shore, but again he got nowhere. He was simply going round and round in circles.”

He realized “the impossibility of his situation.”


Around the time President Obama was considering the mission, strategy and tactics, and troop levels in Afghanistan in summer 2010, journalist and commentator Bill Moyers, remembered his dream a year before Obama came into office.

He told the dream on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher August 28, 2010:

“The generals are asking for another 20, maybe 30,000 troops, and when I saw that request the other day saying what we have (in Afghanistan) is not enough I was back in the cabinet room of the (Johnson) White House sitting behind the president, who was talking to his military advisors, and they were spread out around the table. And, this was in the dream, seriously. He asked the military advisors and his national security advisors how many troops should I send: 40,000? And, a voice in the back of the room said, ‘Not enough.’ 80,000? A voice from over there said, ‘Not enough.’ 120,000? A voice from over there said, ‘Not enough.’

“The military and the hawks in the administration will always say ‘not enough,’” explained Moyers, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, including two years as Johnson’s press secretary.

Analysts, generals, and pundits have likened the now nearly ten-year U.S. conflagration in Afghanistan to the decade plus U.S. involvement in Vietnam. After more than a dozen years, billions of dollars, and the death of more than five million Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians and 60,000 Americans, the U.S. pulled out of the quagmire and death pit of its own making in Southeast Asia in 1975.

As a candidate for president, Barack  Obama pledged to make Afghanistan, which G.W. Bush attacked in October 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11, the home front of the so-called war on terrorism. As president, before his summer, 2010 reassessment, Obama had approved a 34,000-troop increase, making the troop level twice the number as when Bush left office. Ignoring Moyers’ dream guidance, after his summer analysis, Obama added even more troops to the deepening bloody mess of the U.S. making in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Back in the (biblical) day, Daniel explained the power of dreams to King Nebuchadnezzar like this: “Your majesty, … there is a God in heaven who is able to reveal all hidden things, and He has done this for you so that you may know what future events are going to take place during your lifetime and beyond.”

He added: “God has made these events known to you so that you may know in advance His plan that will surely come to pass.”

Whether dreams are heaven sent or a message from self to Self, they impart a picture of reality. As these “war” stories show, dreams help us see clearly, revealing what is hidden. Beyond psychological percepts or random firings of the brain, dreams offer messages of guidance and insight – a snapshot of a moment, a vision of the big story.

We would do well and be well to listen.

Joyce Lynn, Editor, Political Diary

Comments are closed.