Barack Obama photo

Interview With Marc Maron for the WTF With Marc Maron Podcast in Highland Park, California

June 19, 2015

The President. Am I in the orange chair?

Marc Maron. Orange chair for you, Mr. President.

The President. Outstanding.

Marc Maron. Who's staying in the room? we're doing pictures. Oh my gosh.

The President. This is pretty cool.

Marc Maron. This is the place. This is where it happens.

The President. I like this man.

Marc Maron. You do?

The President. I do.

Marc Maron. It's my whole life.

The President. But you're like the big cheese now man, you can't just pretend that you're just—

Marc Maron. What do you mean? Can't I go on pretending?

The President. —you can't pretend like your some, you know, low guy in a garage. You're now big time.

Marc Maron. Should I move?

The President. No, you know, this—partly because of the—the knick knacks around here man.

Marc Maron. Sure it's like the magic box. There's a lot of stuff going on in here.

The President. You've got the Give Me Shelter poster...

Marc Maron. Sure man—yeah I got a weird collection of things.

The President. You've got some drawings and pictures that we can't really discuss.

Marc Maron. Right? Yeah I got pictures over there. I got Dennis Hooper, I got—theres Muddy Waters, there's... I got, yeah, just stuff.

The President. A lot of pictures of yourself, I mean it's a little narcissistic.

Marc Maron. Well I mean, people send them to me and I don't know that I really notice it. That they're all pictures of me. Maybe it's just comforting. [laughter]

That's an old New Yorker review of a one man show I did. There's the yeah...

The President. This is great.

Marc Maron. Well thanks man.

The President. It must bring back good memories every time you walk in here.

Marc Maron. Well do you have that thing where like there's a lot of good memories but then sometimes I'm like "do I need that thing anymore?" Theres a book that I didn't read that I've held on to for 30 years. Do I need to keep that?

The President. You never know when you're gonna need it, right?

Marc Maron. Yeah gotta read that book that I couldn't understand 20 years ago.

The President. It could be the book you need in 5 years.

Marc Maron. Well you used to live around here.

The President. I did.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. I was explaining to folks that, Pasadena, these are my old haunts man.

Marc Maron. And do you— how close is that in your memory? Does it come right back?

The President. Absolutely.

Marc Maron. Yeah?

The President. Yeah through somewhat of a haze, it was college so you know.

Marc Maron. How old were you? Like 20 right? 19?

The President. I was 19.

Marc Maron. And you lived right down the street.

The President. Right down the street.

Marc Maron. How far away are you from that guy now? I mean do you—can you lock into that, can you find that in yourself?

The President. You know the truth is I'm pretty much the same guy in a lot of ways.

Marc Maron. Yeah?

The President. Yeah, I started keeping a journal when I was around 20.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And you know kept it up until I went to law school.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. So for about 7 years. Sometimes I go back and I read this stuff and I'm still the same guy. Which is good.

Marc Maron. Emotionally? Or obviously not emotionally but are there moments when you can sort of lock in, like what parts of your journal are you like "ugh". Like are there still struggles that you were having then that you have now?

The President. Well now that's where stuff changed in the sense that stuff that was bugging you—by the time you're 53 either you've worked it out, or you just forgiven yourself and said "look this is who I am."

Marc Maron. Oh I got to write that down. So I can just forgive myself?

The President. Well you know assuming that—

Marc Maron. It wasn't too heinous?

The President. — that you're not hurting anybody. But you know what I mean, I think that you, at that age are still trying to figure out—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. — who are you, how do I live, what's my code—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. — what's important to me, what's not important to me. And you're sorting through all sorts of contradictions.

Marc Maron. Yep.

The President. And you know by the time you get into your 50s, hopefully a lot of those have been resolved. You've come to terms and come to peace with some stuff and then some stuff you just said "Well, you know what that's just who I am. I got some flaws I've got some strengths, and that's ok."

Marc Maron. Ok well what was—what do you think was the hardest thing for you to come to peace with was? Because I mean— I've read your work, I know the sort of struggles you were going through as a young man that were ongoing.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. So, you know, what's the difference between being at peace and resolving a struggle and what were those struggles for you from day one? I mean...

The President. Well, when I was here in Pasadena right, I had just come from Hawaii from high school. So some of it is just the same stuff that any kid when they are off to college are going through.

Marc Maron. Right, time to breaking out.

The President. You're breaking out, you're trying to figure out how to act right—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. You know, how much fun should I have versus how much work?

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. What's my work about? Because now no one is telling you what you have to do.

Marc Maron. Did you have a vision though? Did you have work that you wanted to do?

The President. By, by my sophomore year I did, that's why I transferred.

Marc Maron. Right, yeah.

The President. I mean, part of me transferring to Occidental College, which is where I was going to school when I was living in Pasadena—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —was after a couple of years in college I started realizing there were some things that were important to me— having an impact on social justice issues, having something to say about poverty or race or things like that.

Marc Maron. What sparked that though? Yeah, you know because it seems to me like your identity, your personal identity sort of coincided almost exactly with your political identity.

The President. Well these are the kinds of contradictions I had to work out. So yeah you know, my mother was the biggest influence in my life, and this wonderful women.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. But I am raised without a dad, an African American, but not—

Marc Maron. Right, yeah.

The President. — grounded in a place with a lot of African American culture. And so I'm trying to figure out that I'm scene, viewed and understood as a Black man in America—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. —but what does that mean?

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. I'm absorbing all kinds of stereotypes and ideas from society.

Marc Maron. Like Richard Prior, got that box right there.

The President. Like Richard Prior or Shaft.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. Right and so I'm trying on a whole bunch of outfits.

Marc Maron. Sure. Hats.

The President. Here's how I should act, here's what it means to be cool—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —here's what it means to be manly.

Marc Maron. Is that when you start smoking?

The President. Yeah exactly.

Marc Maron. Yeah me too.

The President. That's when you start smoking, drinking coffee, you get a leather jacket.

Marc Maron. And then you fight that for the rest of your life.

The President. Exactly.

Marc Maron. The worst.

The President. And then at a certain point, right around 20—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — right around my sophomore year I started to figure out that a lot of the ideas that I had taken on about being a rebel or being a tough guy—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. or being cool were really not me. They were just things that I was trying on because I was insecure, or I was a kid.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. And that's an important moment in my life although also a scary one because then you start realizing, well I actually have to figure out what I really do believe and what is important and who am I really. And a lot of that revolved around issues of race and being able to say that I don't have to be one way to be both an African American, but also someone who affirms the white side of my family.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. I don't have to push back from the love and values that my mom instilled in me.

Marc Maron. Did you fight at all? For awhile?

The President. You know, she and I never fought because she was as sweet as could be, and she had a good sarcastic humor and she kind of put up with my adolescent rebellion.

Marc Maron. She was a very progressive person.

The President. She was. She was, I always call her she was the last great secular humanists. She was, you know, she thought that all religions had something to say.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. And she thought all cultures were fascinating.

Marc Maron. So you weren't brought up with that? With that religion thing at all?

The President. Yeah, no I mean we'd go to church for easter sometimes

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. But we had a shinto temple across the street from the apartment where we were living. When I was in Indonesia, that was a Muslim country.

Marc Maron. Sure.

The President. So we had Mosques, but she instilled in me these core values that for awhile I thought were corny.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And then right around 20 you start realizing you know, honesty, kindness, hard work, responsibility, looking after other people—they are actually pretty good values. They're home spun, you know they come out of my Kansas roots. But they are the things that ultimately ended up being the most important to me in how I tried to build my life.

Marc Maron. Well you know I want to, before I feel like we just jumped right into conversation.

The President. We did, that was quick.

Marc Maron. I am honored that you came. It's an amazing privilege for me to talk to you.

The President. Listen, I'm a big fan and I love conversations like this cause if I thought to myself that when I was in college that I would be in a garage—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. —a couple miles away from where I was living doing an interview—

Marc Maron. As president.

The President. —as president with a comedian, I think that's a pretty hard scenario.

Marc Maron. Couldn't imagine it!

The President. It's not possible to imagine.

Marc Maron. No.

The President. It's not—nobody could imagine it. So that's fun.

Marc Maron. Well yeah so you know, there was a period you know when I was a little more attentive politically. I ran the country from my couch for a couple years. [laughter]

The President. A lot of people do. Yeah, I hear from them all the time. "You idiot! Why aren't you doing it this way?"

Marc Maron. Yeah I heard from them this morning. I got nothing but emails from people telling me what I gotta say to you.

The President. Yeah

Marc Maron. But I also know given the events of—of Wednesday that you know you had to put a lot in check, you lost someone you knew, and I'm sorry for your loss. It was a horrible thing. And I appreciate you making the trip, I know that that must be difficult to compartmentalize that. And this is Friday— and this is going to go up Monday—and in terms of that, not to shift the conversation too far away from the candid. I mean, in your mind, what happens now? Because this is going to go up Monday and this is Friday, so in relation to that event...

The President. Well look, they have captured the suspect.

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. We've got a legal system that's going to work the way it's supposed to.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. People are paying a lot of attention to it. The point I made in the immediate aftermath of the killing—

Marc Maron. On Thursday, yeah.

The President. —was that I've done this way too often.

Marc Maron. Yes.

The President. During the course of my presidency it feels as if a couple times a year—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — I end up having to speak to the country and speak to a particular community about a devastating loss. And you know the grieving that the country feels is real, the sympathy obviously, the prioritizing comforting the families. All that is important. But I think part of the point I wanted to make was that it's not enough to just feel bad. There are actions that could be taken that would make events like this less likely. And one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic common sense gun safety laws, that by the way a majority of gun owners support.

Marc Maron. Mmhm.

The President. This is unique to our country. There's no other advanced nation on earth that tolerates multiple shootings on a regular basis and considers it normal. And to some degree that's whats happened in this country. It has become something that we expect.

Marc Maron. They are framing it as if it's just a crazy person...

The President. It's a crazy person you can't help it, but the truth of the matter is that this doesn't happen with this kind of frequency in other countries. When Australia had a mass killing—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — I think it was in Tasmania about 25 years ago, it was just so shocking to the system the entire country said "Well we are going to completely change our gun laws," and they did. And it hasn't happened since.

Marc Maron. Well and also when you came into office—I mean I know gun owners, I grew up in New Mexico, my father was a gun owner—that there was this tremendous fear like that they're gonna come for our guns. And that is a common reframe.

The President. Well in fact, typically right after Newtown happened for example—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — gun sales shot up.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And ammunition shot up. And each time these events occur ironically gun manufacturers make out like bandits. Partly because of this fear thats turned up that the federal government and the black helicopters are all coming to get you guns.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And part of my argument is, you know it is important for folks to understand how hunting and sportsmen ship around firearms is really important to a lot of people.

Marc Maron. Mmhm.

The President. And it's a part of how they grew up, a part of you know, the bonding they had with their dads.

Marc Maron. Yep

The President. It evokes all kinds of memories and traditions and I think you have to be respectful of that.

Marc Maron. Mmhm.

The President. The question is just is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with some common sense stuff that prevents a 21 year old who is angry about something or confused about something or is racist or is you know deranged, from going into a gun store and suddenly is packing—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —and can do enormous harm. mAnd that is not something that we have ever fully come to terms with, and unfortunately the grip of the NRA on Congress is extremely strong. I don't foresee any legislative action being taken in this Congress and I don't see any reelection happening until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and tell themselves "This is not normal, this is something that we can change and we are going to change it." And if you don't have that kind of public and voter pressure, it's not going to change from the inside.

Marc Maron. So you still have faith in the American public and American democracy and momentum, and just to be clear there are no black helicopters correct?

The President. There are. There are black helicopters but we generally don't deploy them.

Marc Maron. Ok. Ok. Alright.

The President. We deploy them against Bin Laden for example, but we generally don't deploy them on US soil.

Marc Maron. Right. But cause like I ask myself when I knew I was talking to you and I see somebody who symbolically— that that horrible event, he had an agenda, it was a symbolic event, he knew what he was doing and he knew where he was doing it, he knew what it meant. And now he's confessed by saying he wanted to start a race war.

The President. Right

Marc Maron. In my mind it's like where do you find hope without that ever stopping. And is it in the people?

The President. It is in the people and I tell you, people ask me what's—what's the thing you've learned most as president—

Marc Maron. Right, yeah.

The President. —and I tell them I don't know if this is something I've learned but it is something that has been confirmed. The American people are overwhelmingly good, decent, generous people. And I can say that because I meet with a lot of people and during this journey that you take from the time you start running for president to the six and a half years being president, you see folks from all walks of life.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. You don't just talk to your supporters, you meet people who don't like you, didn't vote for you. You go to areas that are, you know in today's parlance, red states—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. —and are considered very conservative and you talk to people—and everybody that I meet believes in a lot of the same things. They believe in some of the same virtues I was talking about that my mom taught me. They believe in honesty and family and community and looking out for one another. They very rarely think in terms of "that's a republican so I don't like that person" or "that's a Democrat so I don't like that person." That—that's not how folks organize their lives. So that always gives me hope and always gives me confidence when I see how Americans interact with each other on a day to day basis. The problem is, is that there is this big gap between who we are as a people and how our politics expresses itself. And part of that has to do with gerrymandering and super-packs and lobbyists and a media that is so splintered now, that we are not in a common conversation. And the fact that if you watch Fox News you inhabit a completely different world with different facts than if you read The New York Times...

Marc Maron. Right, you can cherry pick facts and information to fit your ideology.

The President. And then that becomes self reenforcing and there is a profit, both for politicians and for News outlets in simplifying and polarizing. And so all of those things have combined to make our political institutions detached from how people live on a day to day basis. And that is part of why people get so frustrated and they get so cynical, but ironically you get a negative feedback loop right, when people start thinking that what's happening in Washington is so distant from how I see things that I'm not even going to bother to vote.

Marc Maron. Or even listen.

The President. Or I'm not even going to bother to listen. And as a consequence then, the public withdraws and you get an even worse political gridlock and polarization. So the issue is not the American people, that's where my faith is. The question is how do we build institutions and connections that allow the goodness, decency, and common sense of ordinary folks to express itself in the decisions that are made about how the country moves forward.

Marc Maron. Well it's interesting that people have lost faith and I think that what your speaking to is—I had this weird experience with a guy, I did a show in Cleveland and in the next theater right over was Denis Miller and O'Reilly. And after the show I was talking to a guy, you know a Vietnam vet, and we were just sitting outside smoking a cigar and he was having a cigarette and he was from the south. He said he just went and saw the show, but I didn't tell him who I was, I didn't discuss politics at all I just let that go, and I knew that in that moment that if I had brought up politics, there would have been nothing but tension, nothing but fighting.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. And I didn't want to do it, but because I didn't I got to know who that guy was.

The President. Right

Marc Maron. So I think some of what you're speaking to is that like I think you're right that most American's are decent people with these core values but if you get 2 or 3 of them with same ideology feeding a certain amount of hate on either side then the individual does not come through.

The President. I think that's right. And that's why I think so many people shy away from politics because they know—look if I'm going to my kids soccer game and I'm just with a bunch of dads—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. — and we're talking about sports—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. —and we're talking about housing prices and we're just talking about how we're living our lives, then everybody is finding all kinds of commonalities. And yet the minute you introduce republican, democrat, Obama—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. — Bush, suddenly people start breaking apart. And then the question then becomes how do you break out of that pattern and that's something I've spent a lot of time with over the last six and a half years. I've spent a lot of time just on policy and trying to get stuff right. You know, how do we make sure that we create more jobs, how do we make sure that when I first came in, how do I prevent another Great Depression. How do I make sure folks have healthcare. But increasingly I've spent my time thinking about how do I try to break out of these old patterns—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. —that our politics has fallen into. Which is part of the reason why I'm here, I mean I'll be honest with you. One of the things that I've had conversations with my communications team about is—is how do we talk to folks who aren't already so dug in into a particular way of thinking about politics that we can create more space for people to have a normal ordinary conversation. And one in which the lines aren't as clearly drawn black and white, and it is not this, you know, battling in a steel cage—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. — between one side and another.

Marc Maron. Well I became sort of disillusioned. I mean I used to do you know left wing talk radio and I realized that there was a lot of things I was naive about. You know, about just exactly how the government worked.

The President. Yeah.

Marc Maron. And then there are certain trajectories around war—

The President. Yeah

Marc Maron. —and around education and around you know the sort of corporate occupation of the American government.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. You know, you start to have those conversations and it becomes very hard to deny that some of that is true.

The President. Yeah

Marc Maron. And you know I imagine from what I see in thinking about your presidency and thinking about you is there is an element—and I don't know if this will be insulting to you—there's an element to the presidency that's sort of middle management.

The President. Yeah.

Marc Maron. And that it seems to me that you knew going in what you were up against. Because I've read your early work and you knew how it laid out.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. You knew how capitalism worked.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. You knew how—you knew that there was no—you can't go in like you know "we can't live in a white man's world." Those color lines had to be scraped.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. But also you knew the realities of business.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. So it seems to me that in thinking about that middle management frame that you knew the game you had to play but you knew that you had to, I think left to its own devices, sadly the government is only going to ceed so much to poor people.

The President. Well, you know what, here's another way of putting it.

Marc Maron. Ok.

The President. But—but I think you're on to something. You know when I ran in 2008,

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. Right. there were those posters out there—hope. And change— and those are capturing aspirations about where we should be going.

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. A society that's more just, a society that's more equal, a society in which the dignity of every individual is respected. A society of tolerance—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — a society of opportunity. And the question then is how do the operation lines those abstract concepts into something really concrete. You know how do we get someone a job, how do we improve a school, how do we make sure that everybody gets decent healthcare. As soon as you start specifics then the world's complicated.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And there are choices that you've got to make and it turns out that the trajectory of progress always happens in fits and starts. You've got these big legacy systems that you've got to wrestle with—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. — and you have to balance what you want and where you're going with what is and what has been. And one of the interesting things is that the conversations I have with supporters who will say to me "You know we think you're a great guy, you've done some great things, but I'm so disappointed with X, cause X didn't happen exactly the way I wanted it." And what I have to explain to them is that progress in a democracy—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. —is never instantaneous and it's always partial and you can't get cynical or frustrated just because you didn't get all the way there immediately. So during the healthcare debate there were a lot of people who just wanted a single payer plan.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. Right. And as I said before, if I were designing the system from scratch, that would probably make more sense. We are the only country on earth—not the only country on earth but we are one of the few countries that has this weird amalgam of private sector and medicare and sort of a patchwork system, hugely inefficient. We spend more than any of the other advanced countries, our outcomes aren't necessarily better. But the notion that we were just going to scrap the existing healthcare system which is a sixth of our economy, it employs millions of people and—that wasn't going to happen.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. So the question is alright, given where we are starting now, how do we move as best we can in the right direction? Five years later, we've got millions of people who have healthcare who didn't have it before we have the lowest uninsured rate that has ever been recorded. But for a lot of people they are looking at it and saying "Well, we didn't get everything we wanted." For me, what I say to myself is, for those millions of people, many of whom write to me and say "You saved my life," that's democracy working, that's government working.

The same is true when it comes to how we think about the fight against terrorism. You know, we ended two wars but I always said from the start that there really are people out there who would have no compunction about just blowing up an entire neighborhood of Americans, innocent men women and children—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —for ideological reasons. We have to deal with that. And that then means that we do have to be able to identify those networks. We do have to, when we can find those folks—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —try to prevent them from doing what they're doing. And so for the past six and a half years I've tried to do is to build up a legal structure that is consistent with our values and due process build up a intelligence system that is consistent with our civil liberties.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And sometimes my supporters will write and say, "You know there's some stuff that you're doing that's just like Bush." And what I explain to them is the problems with the excesses of our counter terrorism approach after 9/11 were real. And waterboarding and torture and renditions—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. —we stopped but that doesn't mean that we don't have real problems aren't there and there aren't balances that we've got to strike and figure out. And it's complicated and we've got to be mindful that whatever abstract views you have about drones or that you have about intelligence gathering, that if you were sitting there in the situation room you'd realize that you've got some responsibilities and you've got some choices to make. And it's not all you know—

Marc Maron. Clearcut

The President. — clearcut the way often times it gets presented. So I guess to go to the point you were making earlier, that's where you know yeah it's like middle management. Sometimes your job is just to make stuff work. Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. —north or south so that ten years from now suddenly we are in a very different place than we were, but at the time—but at the moment, people may feel that we need a fifty degree turn, not a two degree turn. And you say "well, if I turn 50 degrees the whole ship turns."

Marc Maron. They weren't going to let you turn fifty degrees.

The President. And you can't turn fifty degrees.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. And not—

Marc Maron. Shock to the system.

The President. —and its not just because of corporate lobbyists, it's not just because of big money. It's because societies don't turn fifty degrees. Democracies certainly don't turn fifty degrees. And that's been true on issues of race, that's been true on issues of the environment, it's true on issues of discrimination. As long as they are turing in the right direction—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. that we are making progress—

Marc Maron. Right

The President. —then government is working sort of the way it's supposed to.

Marc Maron. But it's very optimistic of you.

The President. I'm an optimistic guy. [laughter] I am.

Marc Maron. I mean like just the way you're—cause I don't know how you deal from day to day, I was panicking all morning. I don't imagine you were flying in here on the chopper thinking you know like "I'm nervous about Marc."

The President. No I wasn't.

Marc Maron. Ok well that's good. That makes...[laughter]

The President. That would be a problem.

Marc Maron. That would be a problem!

The President. If the president was feeling stressed about—

Marc Maron. About coming to my garage

The President. —coming to your garage.

Marc Maron. But you deal with that stuff—

The President. For a podcast..

Marc Maron. —all the time I mean like you're saying it's incremental progress but I mean you had a congress that was dead set on not giving you anything.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. And then you know then it got to a point where even if they wanted to work with you they couldn't because their constituents...

The President. That's exactly right. They had their constituencies all stirred up.

Marc Maron. They thought you were Satan.

The President. Right

Marc Maron. So you had that obstacle.

The President. Right

Marc Maron. And then you're coming into a country that was depleted.

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. And it's fascinating to me that you're even able to maintain this hope. And then again on monday when this post the supreme court's gonna make a decision about your bill—the healthcare bill. I mean that's a huge thing, this is a slightly very crazy case...

The President. That shouldn't have been taken in my view.

Marc Maron. But it could dismantle your—your big thing. The thing that you gave everybody.

The President. Well a couple things I'll observe. Number one: not to get into the weeds on this—

Marc Maron. Well, yeah.

The President. — but first of all, I'm confident we'll win because the law is clearly on our side. Number two: the case at issue is not whether the entire Affordable Care Act is legal.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. It is a very narrow statutory interpretation about whether those states that didn't set up state exchanges but who's people are benefiting from subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, whether they still get those subsidies. If the supreme court were to decide against us, five to six million people could lose their health insurance.

Marc Maron. Immediately.

The President. Well, they— who knows what they said. But people in California where there's a state exchange, or New York, they wouldn't lose it.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. All the benefits that have happened for people who already had health insurance—not being discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition, making sure that women aren't having to pay more than men then insurance— those things wouldn't go away.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. But look, are there frustrations in my job? Yes. On the other hand I can say unequivocally I can answer Ronald Reagan's question unequivocally "Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?"

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. And the answer is on every economic measure just about we are.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. So when I take an unemployment rate from 10 percent down to 5.5 percent, when I drive the uninsured rate to the lowest it's ever been, when I restore people's poor 01 case, when I make sure that we're doubling clean energy and we are reducing our carbon footprint and high school graduation is the highest it's ever been and college attendance is the highest they've ever been—

Marc Maron. And civil rights elements too.

The President. —and LGBT rights have been recognized and solidified in ways that we couldn't even imagine 10 years ago. When I look at those things, I can say that in terms of not just managing the government but moving the country forward, we've had a lot more hits than misses. And we've made a difference in people's lives. And that is ultimately what you're looking for. You know when you wake up everyday you say to yourself, "Are things a little bit better?"

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And if you take that long view, than you're less nervous or stressed about the day to day ups and downs and what's in politico today or what are my poll numbers doing or what did such and such say about me. And you kind of start to just block that stuff out because you're staying focused on your ultimate destination.

Marc Maron. You can just walk it out, obviously. You have to.

The President. I have learned not to worry about the day to day and to stay focused on what I need to do for the American people long term. And look, some of it is temperament. You know, I always say part of this is just being born in Hawaii, it's really nice.

Marc Maron. I was just there, in Kawaii.

The President. Yeah, you feel better.

Marc Maron. Yeah!

The President. So I feel like that fortified me. I just, you know, there is a certain element of chill.

Marc Maron. You got a little Hawaiian in the mind

The President. You got a little Hawaiian in the mind. And that's part of it.

Marc Maron. But don't you get furious? I mean I saw you on TV the other day and I could see the anger and you're not a boil over kind of guy—

The President. No

Marc Maron. — but I could feel it.

The President. Yeah. There are times—I will tell you right after Sandy Hook in Newtown when 26 year olds are gunned down, and Congress literally does nothing...yeah that—that's the closest I came to feeling disgusted. I was pretty disgusted. But—but the that's the exception rather than the rule. In the sense that on most fronts I've been able to find ways to make progress even in the face of obstruction, even in the face of resistance, even in the face of gridlock.

So on climate change for example—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. —Congress has not acted.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. On the other hand, just through rule making we were able to double fuel efficiency standards on cars. We met right in the middle of putting together a rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and we'll get that stuff done. And it would be a lot better, it'd be a lot more helpful if we had some cooperation from congress and if I didn't have the chairman of the energy and environment committee in the Senate holding up a snowball as if that was proof that climate change wasn't happening.

Marc Maron. Right. [laughter]

The President. That would be useful.

Marc Maron. So that kind of—but does, cause you're a smart guy, you're a results oriented guy.

The President. Yeah.

Marc Maron. and you see yourself as a practical person which you are and that the stuff that you're talking about should make sense to everybody.

The President. Yeah.

Marc Maron. And that's the way you approach these guys who are like "No!"

The President. Yeah I'm a—look some of the mythology about me of being being very professorial and removed, that stuff is actually, I think it has to do with me not schmoozing enough in Washington cause I got two kids.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. And it's true that I don't do the cocktail circuit and some of the...

Marc Maron. You don't play the game in that way.

The President. But the truth is though, it is accurate to say that I believe in reason.

Marc Maron. Ok.

The President. And I believe in facts.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. And I believe in looking at something and having a debate and an argument, but trying to drive it towards some agreed upon set of assumptions about what works and what doesn't. So if you want to argue with me that it's better off if we cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires— I don't mind you putting that forward as an argument but if I then present to you a set of facts that shows that that does not result in higher economic growth, but in fact when we have a more equitable tax system, that's when everybody's benefiting and that's when we grow. And I can show you charts decade by decade of when we grew fastest and what worked. And the fact that your theories have generally have not worked—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. —my expectation is that at some point—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — you say "Ok..."

Marc Maron. Yeah. That makes sense.

The President. "...that makes sense to me."

Marc Maron. Right

The President. And that's where there are times where it is frustrating because the public has—look, it's hard for the public to follow this stuff—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —not because they don't get it. but because they have their lives to lead. They're working, you're trying to get your kids to school.

Marc Maron. They just want to be ok. They want things to be ok.

The President. And they are not going to be able to follow the intricacies of the healthcare debate so if someone is going around saying death panels—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —they start to think, "I don't like the idea of death panels, that doesn't sound good." And so one of the challenges that I've had to adapt to, and this is where hopefully I've gotten better as president—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — cause you know, you learn as you go along, is to recognize that it's not enough to be right or to get policy right, it's also important to be able to communicate in a way that is digestible, easily enough for the public that you can move the needle of public opinion and sometimes it's just a matter of you being able to get enough folks in Congress who share your views to have the votes to get stuff done.

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. And you can talk all you want—

Marc Maron. Right

The President. — but you're not going to change the other side's mind, you just have to go ahead and see if you can move forward because they are resistant to, in some cases, rational fact-based arguments.

Marc Maron. So—alright you've got an amazing amount of stuff done and in time in the last year you had a lot of stuff done there were people who were thinking you weren't getting anything done, and now this horrible thing happens Wednesday and you have you know these police actions in Baltimore and Ferguson. I mean where—coming from where you came from and you know trying to define yourself in terms of the African American community—

The President. Right.

Marc Maron. —in terms of racial relations, where are we with that in term of when you came in in your mind?

The President. Well first of all, I always tell young people in particular, do not say that nothing's changed when it comes to race in America unless you've lived through being a black man in the 1950s or 60s or 70s. It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my life time and yours. And that opportunities have opened up and that attitudes have changed.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. That is a fact. What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination, in almost every institution in our lives—you know that casts a long shadow and that's still part of our DNA that's past on. We are not cured of it.

Marc Maron. Racism.

The President. Racism, we are not cured of.

Marc Maron. Clearly.

The President. And—and it's not just a matter of, it not being polite to say nigger in public, that's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination. We have to—societies don't over night completely erase everything that happen 200 to 300 years prior. And so what I tried to describe in the Selma speech that I gave commemorating

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — the march there was again a notion that progress is real and we have to take hope from that progress, but what is also real is that the march isn't over, and the work is not yet completed. And then our job is to try in very concrete ways to figure out what more can we do. So let's take the example of police practices; cops have a really tough job.

Marc Maron. Yep.

The President. And part of the reason cops have a tough job particularly in big cities is that there are communities that are poor, are systematically locked out of opportunity, that suffer from legacies of discrimination that have been built up over generations and we send cops in there basically to say "keep those folks from making too much trouble."

Marc Maron. But how do we fix what you just said?

The President. Right well, I'm going to get to that. So the point is though, that we can break it out into these component parts and we can say number one, there's specific ways that we can make police-community relations better and make police more accountable.

Marc Maron. Right, yeah.

The President. And so we put together a task force with police officers and young people, including some of the people who lead the Ferguson marches, and surprisingly they came up with a consensus of things that could be done that would make things better. Alright, so lets implement those. Now, in the mean time what are we doing to help those lowest income communities? We know that, for example, early childhood education works. That is one way to break the legacy of racism and poverty. If a three year old, four year old kid is in an environment of love and is getting a good meal—

Marc Maron. Right

The President. — and has a teacher that's trained in early childhood development and is hearing enough words and is being engaged enough, they can get to where a middle class kid is pretty quickly.

Marc Maron. Is that happening?

The President. It is but the problem is is that it happens spottily. Right? It happens in this community or this school district or this neighborhood or this outstanding principal is making something happen. Or this philanthropist has decided— decided to do something. But what hasn't happened is us making a collective commitment to do it.

So the point I'm making is that when you look at how to deal with racism—

Marc Maron. Mmhm

The President. — how to deal with issues of some of the police shootings that have been involved, I'm less interested in having an ideological conversation than I am looking at what has worked in the past—

Marc Maron. Mmhm

The President. — and applying it and scaling up. What is required is a sense on the part of all of us that what happens to those kids matters to me even if I never meet them because my society is going to be better off. I'm going to feel better about the America I live in and overtime I'm confident that my children and my grandchildren are going to live a better life if those kids also have opportunity. That's where we have to feel hopeful, rather than just say nothing's changed, we have to say "Wow we've actually made significant progress over the last 50 years, if we made as much progress over the next 10 years as we have over the last 50, things would be better." And that's within our grasp it's available to us.

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. And this is where again you want to get to those decent, well meaning Americans who would agree with that but when it gets translated into politics, it gets all confused. And trying to bridge that gap I think between the good impulses of the overwhelming majority of Americans and how our politics expresses itself continues to be the biggest challenge.

Marc Maron. What do you do to have fun? I mean like I can't imagine what it's like to raise a family in this situation that you're in as president, it must feel sort of insulated.

The President. You know the biggest fun I've had is watching my girls grow up.

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. And they are—they are magnificent. Look, hopefully every parent feels the way I feel about my daughters.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. But I think they are spectacular and when Michelle and I came into office, the biggest worry we had was "is this going to be some weird thing for them and are they gonna grow up with an attitude or are they going to think everybody eats off of china?"

Marc Maron. Right. Right

The President. And...

Marc Maron. Are they? [laughter]

The President. And you know it turns out that they just become—they're kind, they're thoughtful, they treat everybody with respect, they don't have any kind of airs They're confident but without being cocky.

Marc Maron. Mmhm.

The President. They've got great friends. They've been able to—you know they're not stuck in the bubble the same way I am.

Marc Maron. Mmhm.

The President. You know they go to the mall, they have sleep overs, they go to prom. Malia is starting to drive. You know they're doing great. So my biggest fun has been watching them grow up. Now unfortunately they are now hitting the age where they still love me, but they think I'm completely boring.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And so they'll come in, pat me on the head, talk to me for ten minutes and then they're gone all weekend. And they break my heart. So now I've got to start thinking, well what's going to replace that fun?

Marc Maron. Right, well the one thing you don't have to worry about, is like "I hope they don't get lost."

The President. That never happens.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. I mean what is true you know is sometimes, Malia for example—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — she got older and was starting to chafe a little bit about secret service and I had to explain to her, "Sweetie, let me tell you something. If you think that you'd be over at your friend's house until 11:30, and then I'd be coming to pick you up, you're crazy.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. "So the only reason you're out is because you have a detail, otherwise you'd be home, because I wouldn't be chauffeuring you around." So there's a balance of that stuff.

You know I've been trying to work out pretty hard just to stay in shape that's useful. But it's not—you know I used to play basketball more but these days I— I've gotten to the point to where it's not as much fun because I'm not as good as I used to be and I get frustrated.

Marc Maron. You get—because you play for real.

The President. Yeah I used to be. I was never great but I was a good player and I could play seriously and now I'm one of those old guys who's running around... you know the guys who I'd play with who are a lot younger, they sort of pity me and sympathize with me. They tolerate me but, you know, we all know I'm the weak link—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. — on the court and I don't like being the weak link.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. Yeah

Marc Maron. And psychologically in terms of—of where you come from and your family, you know the revelations that you grew to have about your father overtime, and you know, did you find yourself confronting in yourself the same challenges that your father did you know with—with stubbornness, you know with dealing with you know alcohol and that kind of stuff?

The President. You know, I was lucky in that sense. For those who are listening who haven't read my book, my dad was a tragic figure in a lot of ways. A brilliant man by all accounts—

Marc Maron. Uh huh

The President. —who sort of took a leap from a tiny village in the back waters of Kenya to suddenly the United States, getting a degree, attending Harvard. And he never managed that leap as well as he could have. And I—and part of the process of me writing the book was to figure out what happened to him and how did he become who he was. You know he ended up becoming an alcoholic and abusive towards his several wives and to some degree a neglectful father. In some ways because I didn't grow up with him—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. — he was an abstraction to me.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. That stuff didn't steep into me. You know, my mother and my grandparents who did raise me, fortified me. Although, one thing that they always did that I thought was wise—

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. —was they never portrayed a negative picture of him. They actually accentuated what was good about him rather than bad. Which is an interesting thing.

Marc Maron. And you had to do your own homework. [laughter]

The President. I had to do my own homework but the point is though is that I didn't end up...

Marc Maron. It was a good myth.

The President. Yeah it was a good myth. And I didn't internalize a bunch of negative attitudes about who he was and thereby didn't think that that was who I had to be. So, you know I had the adolescent rebellion, screw up period that has been well chronicled.

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. But it turned out that a lot of his craziness, I didn't end up internalizing it. You know one of the things I always say—I've said this to Michelle—one of our biggest jobs as parents, cause we're all a little bit crazy, is lets see if we can not pass on any of our craziness to any of our kids.

Marc Maron. Right. That's the challenge, right.

The President. Yeah. And let's see if we can break the cycle.

Marc Maron. How are you crazy?

The President. Well, for example, I think that having grown up the way I did without a dad, moving around a lot, my mom sometimes gone—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. —because of the nature of her work, it was very important to me to be a good dad. And part of, I think, the attraction to Michelle originally, in addition to her being really good looking and smart and tough and funny, was she had this opposite experience growing up. I mean it was really Leave It to Beaver. You know, dad, mom, brother, living in the same place for her entire childhood, family everywhere. And so—so she helped ground me in a way that allowed my kids to have this base for themselves that I never had.

Conversely, I think Michelle would be the first to admit that part probably of her attraction to me was that her living in the same place all her life in this very traditional sense sometimes made her less adventurous and less open to doing new things.

Marc Maron. Mmhm

The President. And so she has seen me as a way to instill in our kids this willingness to take a flyer on something. Try it out.

Marc Maron. Sure

The President. Do something new. You know, in that sense each of us I think had been really mindful about trying to make sure that whatever limitations or gaps we've got that we're having the other person help fill those gaps at least for our children.

Marc Maron. And one, I know we've got to finish up here in a minute or two, but you know when Michelle says "would you stop that please," what is she talking about?


The President. Well, I mean there's being late...

Marc Maron. Do you isolate—like for some reason I see you as a guy that's sort of like in your head and just sort of like, will detach a little bit.

The President. No, no I'm very engaged, that's not—she will say "stop that" when we first started dating. And I'd always give myself kind of a fifteen minute leeway—

Marc Maron. Right

The President. — in terms of showing up.

Marc Maron. Ok.

The President. And getting to stuff. Partly because Michelle's dad had Multiple Sclerosis. It's really interesting, I used to say "Why are you stressing me about being late? I'm ten minutes or fifteen minutes late, what's the big deal?"

Marc Maron. Right

The President. And then, I don't remember how long we were in the relationship when she described how her dad had to wake up an hour earlier than everybody else, because he had Multiple Sclerosis, just to put on his shirt and button his own shirt was a big task.

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. And if the family wanted to go see Michelle's brother play basketball, this is before the ADA—the American Disability Act, you know they'd have to get there early so that her dad on crutches could hobble his way up the stairs to their seat. And that mentality of not wanting to stand out and not wanting to, you know, miss something had been instilled in her. So it was very emotional thing.

Marc Maron. It was loaded, it wasn't just about being late.

The President. It wasn't just about being late. So, that's one of the beauties of marriage. If it works, that's when you start figuring out—you know the fights you have are never about the fights. It's never about the thing you're fighting about. It's always about something else. It's about a story, it's about respect, recognition.

Marc Maron. Something deep.

The President. Yeah something deep.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. Yeah, and you know...

Marc Maron. So ok, so I think we did good here.

The President. Yeah I thought it was a pretty good conversation.

Marc Maron. What could I have done better? What did I not do? Were you expecting something a little lighter?

The President. No, no we—its just that we sort of dove in, it didn't have that sort of nice, ease into it. Suddenly we were just...

Marc Maron. In it? That's sort of just the way I am. You know, intense.

The President. That's what I figured. So I went with it. I rolled with it.

Marc Maron. How do you do this, you know you just say well—I saw you in Minnasis the day after your grandmother passed the day before the election, and you just turned it on. They—you know, you were just doing gigs last night. You're going to Tyler Perry's and Chuck Lorre's doing the thing. You're touring, doing that part of the job. You know the night of—you know I'm a comic—so the night that you knew they were going to shoot Bin Laden you're doing comedy.

The President. I was pretty funny too.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. Yeah.

Marc Maron. But you know, is there some trick that you can share with us all on how you just sort of focus in on that? Is everything that immediate to you that you can compartmentalize that quickly, or do you just know that you have to show up and do the job?

The President. Yeah, look because you're a performer you know this is true and you're friends with a lot of comics...

Marc Maron. You like comedy?

The President. I love comedy.

Marc Maron. Who are your guys?

The President. Well Prior was an early one. Dick Gregory when he was really you know on the edge.

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. But you know what, I love all—Seinfeld's a whole other different type.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. Louis [C.K.] I know is a buddy of yours.

Marc Maron. Yeah Louis.

The President. Yeah I think Louis's terrific.

Marc Maron. Oh boy you just made his life. You made his life.

The President. No, he's wonderful in such a self deprecating—

Marc Maron. Yeah

The President. — but edgy kind of way and basically good hearted even when he's saying stuff that's pretty, you know—

Marc Maron. Wrong.

The President. —wrong yeah. But you can—there's a goodness about him that comes through. But look I think that, I think at the end, what all those guys understand is the more you do something and the more you practice it, at a certain point it becomes second nature.

Marc Maron. Sure.

The President. And—and what I've always been impressed about by when I've listened to comics talk about comedy is how much of it is a craft.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. Right? And they're thinking it through. They have a sense of when it works and when it doesn't and that the longer you do it the better you're instincts are.

Marc Maron. Same with the president.

The President. Yeah, same with the president. And also—I guess the last thing is you lose—you lose fear.

Marc Maron. That's right.

The President. I was talking to somebody the other day about why I actually think I'm—I'm a better president and would be a better candidate if I were running again than I ever have been. It's sort of like an athlete, you might slow down a little bit , you might not jump as high—

Marc Maron. Right.

The President. — as you used to, but I know what I'm doing and I'm fearless.

Marc Maron. For real, you're not pretending to be fearless.

The President. Right, yeah you're not pretending to be fearless.

Marc Maron. That's exactly it, right.

The President. And when you get to that point...

Marc Maron. Freedom.

The President. Then yeah, you know— and also part of that fearlessness is because you've screwed up enough times—

Marc Maron. Sure

The President. —that you know, that...

Marc Maron. It's all happened.

The President. It's all happened. I've been through this.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. I've screwed up.

Marc Maron. Right

The President. I've been in the barrel tumbling down Niagra Falls.

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. And I emerged and I lived. And that's always—that's such a liberating feeling.

Marc Maron. Absolutely.

The President. Right?

Marc Maron. Yeah.

The President. It's one of the benefits of—of age. It almost compensates for the fact that I can't play basketball anymore.

Marc Maron. Well good, thank you.

The President. It was great to talk to you.

Marc Maron. Very good, we're good?

The President. That was fun.

Marc Maron. I appreciate it Mr. President, it was great.

The President. Alright Mick.

Barack Obama, Interview With Marc Maron for the WTF With Marc Maron Podcast in Highland Park, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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