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Speaking just two days after the Charleston shootings, the president was honest about the state of race relations.
Over the years, Maron has interviewed many huge names in the garage where he records his podcast, WTF, but this one certainly takes the cake—although the Secret Service did move everything out of the garage for the recording of this particular episode. Also, some changes were made to the desk.
“They took everything that could be used as a weapon off of the desk, so the pocket knife and the hammer had to go,” Maron told the Daily Dot.
It’s been a long road to the big interview, but the length of the journey didn’t make Maron any less surprised when it was finally confirmed.
“Probably about a year ago, the White House reached out to us,” Maron told the Daily Dot. “It wasn’t clear what they had in mind…But every month or so, they’d check back in, and then they said, ‘We’re sort of thinking that maybe the President could do the show.’ And I was like, ‘That’s crazy.'”
“When it became clear that he was coming, we just got into gear,” Maron said.
The podcaster told the Daily Dot that he didn’t want the interview to be overly political. But given the tragedy in Charleston and the Supreme Court case that could severely weaken the Affordable Care Act, politics was unavoidable.
“Those were things that just sort of had to be done, just to put it into context,” said Maron.
We went through the interview and pulled excerpts that highlight Obama’s views on mass shootings, healthcare, what he’s learned in the Oval Office, and the state of race relations in America.
“They’ve captured the subject, we’ve got a legal system, it’s gonna work… I think we’re paying a lot of attention to it. The point I made in the immediate aftermath of the killing was ‘I’ve done this way too often.’ During the course of my presidency it feels as if… a couple times a year, I end up having to speak to the country, and to speak to a particular community, about a devestating loss. And the grieving that the country feels is real… the sympathy, obviously, the prioritizing, the comforting of the families, all that’s important… but I think that part of the point that I wanted to make was that it’s not enough just to feel bad. There are actions that could be taken to 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—but by the way a majority of gun owners support. 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. To some degree, that’s what’s happened in this country: It’s become something that we expect.”
On gun sales after shootings
“Right after Newtown, for example, gun sales shot up, and ammunition. And each time that these events occur, ironically, gun manufactures make out like bandits—partly because of this fear that’s turned up that the federal government and the black helicopters are all coming to get your guns. Part of my argument is: It is important for folks to understand how hunting and sportsmanship, around firearms, is really important to a lot of people…. I think you have to be respectful of that. 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 deranged – from going into a gun store, and suddenly is packin’, and can do enormous harm.”
On the most important lessons he’s learned, or has had confirmed
“The American people are overwhelmingly good, decent, generous people. And I can say that because I meet a lot of people – during this journey that you take, from the time you start running for president, to being six and a half years into being president – you see folks from all walks of life. You don’t just talk to your supporters, you meet people who don’t like you, didn’t vote for you…. Everybody that I meet believes in a lot of the same things…. Honesty, family, community, and looking out for one other…. They very rarely think in terms of ‘oh, that’s a Republican, so I don’t like that person,’ or ‘that’s a Democrat, I don’t like that person,’ that’s not how folks organize their lives. That always gives me hope, and that always gives me confidence…. The problem is, there’s this big gap between who we are as a people, and how our politics expresses itself. Part of that has to do with gerrymandering, and superpacs, and lobbyists, and a media that is so splintered now that we’re not in a common conversation… there’s a profit, both for news outlets and for politicians, for simplifying and polarizing. All those things have combined to make our political institutions detached from how people live on a day to day basis….
[Supporters will] say to me ‘we think you’re a great guy, you’ve done some good things, but I’m so disappointed with X, because X didn’t happen exactly the way I wanted it. What I have to explain to them is: Progress, in a democracy, is never instantaneous, and it’s always partial, and you can’t get cynical or frustrated because you didn’t’ get all the way there immediately…. Sometimes your job is to just make stuff work. Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements, or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that, ten years from now, we’re in a very different place than we were…. But, at the moment, people may feel like ‘we need a 50 degree turn, we don’t need a two degree turn,’ and you say ‘well, if I turn 50 degrees, the whole ship…. you can’t turn 50 degrees…. societies don’t turn 50 degrees, democracies don’t turn 50 degrees…. As long as they’re turning in the right direction, then government is working the way it’s supposed to.
“There were a lot of people who just wanted a single payer plan…. If I were designing a system from scratch, that would probably make more sense. We’re one of the few countries that has this weird amalgam of a private system, and Medicare, a sort patchwork system… we spend more than any other of the advanced countries, and 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 and employs millions of people… that wasn’t going to happen. So the quesion was: Given where we’re 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 that didn’t have it before. We have the lowest uninsured rate that has ever been recorded. But, for a lot of people, they’re looking at it and saying ‘well, we didn’t get everything we wanted.’ For me, what I say to myself is that, for those millions of people, many of whom write to me and say ‘you’ve saved my life,’ that’s democracy working. That’s government working.
“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 – we have to deal with that. That then means that we do have to be able to identify those networks, we do have to—when we can find those folks—try and prevent them from doing what they’re doing…. Sometimes my supporters will write to me and say ‘there’s some stuff here 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…. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have real problems out there, and there aren’t balances that we’ve got to strike and figure out, and it’s complicated, and we’ve gotta 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, that you’ve got some responsibilities, and you’ve got some choices to make, and it’s not all clear cut – the way, oftentimes, it gets presented.”
On King v. Burwell, a Supreme Court challenge to “Obamacare”
“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. It is a very narrow statutory interpretation about whether those states, that didn’t set up state exchanges, but whose people are benefiting from the 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.”
On the progress his administration has made
“I can say, unequivocally—I can answer Ronald Reagan’s question, unequivocally—”Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” And the answer is, on every economic measure, just about we are. So, when I take an unemployment rate from 10% down to 5.5%, and when I drive the uninsured rate to the lowest it’s ever been… when I restore people’s 401K’s, when I make sure that we’re doubling clean energy, and we are reducing our carbon footprint, and high school graduations are the highest they’ve ever been, and college attendances are the highest they’ve ever been, and LGBT rights have recognized and solidified in ways that we couldn’t have even imagined ten 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. When you wake up everyday, you say to yourself ‘are things a little bit better?,’ and if you take that long view, then you’re less nervous, or stressed, about the day to day ups and downs, and what’s in Politico today, and how are my poll numbers doing, and what did such and such say about me, and you kind of just block that stuff out, because you’re staying focused on your ultimate destination.”
On climate change and debating based on facts
“Congress has not acted. On the other hand, just through rulemaking, we’ve been able to double fuel efficiency standards on cars. We are right in the middle of putting together a rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, and we’ll get that stuff done. It’d 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, that would be useful…. I believe in reason, and I believe in facts, and I believe in looking at something and having a debate and an argument, but trying to drive it toward some set of agreed upon 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 equable tax system, that’s when everybody’s benefiting, and that’s when we grow, and I can show you charts, decade by decade, on when we grew fastest, and what worked, and the fact that your theories have generally have not worked… my expectation is that, at some point, you say ‘okay, that makes sense to me.’ And that’s where there are times when it is frustrating, because the public has… it’s hard for the public to follow this stuff, not because they don’t get it, but because they’ve got their lives to lead…. So, if somebody’s going around saying “death panels,” they sort of think ‘well, I don’t like the idea of death panels… that doesn’t sound good.’ One of the challenges that I’ve had to adapt to—and I think this is where, hopefully, I’ve gotten better as a president, because you learn as you go along—is to recognize that it’s not enough just to be right, or to get the policy right; it’s also important to be able to communicate it in a way that is digestible, easy enough to 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. And you can talk all you want, but you’re not going to change the other side’s mind – and 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.”
On race relations
Well, first of all—I always tell young people in particular—do not say that nothing’s changed, when it comes to race in American, unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950’s, or 60’s, or 70’s. It is incontroverible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours, and that opportunities have opened up, and that attitudes have changed. That is a fact. What is also true, is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimation in amost every institution of our lives… that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it. 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. Socieities don’t just, overnight, erase everything that happened two-to-three hundred years prior…. Progress is real, and we have to take hope from that progress, but, what is also real, is that the march is not over, and the work is not yet completed.
On the rise of police shootings
“Cops have a really tough job. Part of the reason that 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.’ …. There’s specific ways that we can make police-community relations better, and police more accountable. So, we put together a task force, with police officers and young people, including some of the folks that led the Ferguson marches, and surprisingly they came up with a consenus of things that could be done that could make things better. Alright, so let’s implement those. Now, in the meantime, what are we doing to help those lowest income communites? We know that, for example, early childhood education works. That is one way to break the legacy of racism and poverty. If a three or four year old kid is in an environment of love, and is getting a good meal, 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…. The point I’m making is that when you look at how to deal with racism, how to deal with issues of some of the police shootings that have been involved, I’m less interested in having an idealogical conversation, than I am with looking at what has worked in the past, and applying it.”
“The biggest fun I’ve had is watching my girls grow up.”
Photo via The White House
Joey Keeton is an entertainment writer who reviewed streaming movies, comedies, and TV series for the Daily Dot. He's also written about podcasts, bizarre web culture, and politics.