The self-described “historic episode” of WTF with Marc Maron, in which Maron interviewed President Barack Obama, is up. During the conversation, Maron and the President discussed the aftermath of the Charleston shooting and race relations in America, parenting and how Obama stays so “chill.”
“I’m excited, nervous, trying not to freak out, I didn’t sleep well in the mind,” Maron said before introducing Obama, who came to his home in California for the hour-ish interview during a trip out West. “I want to connect, but I don’t want to do a policy discussion. I don’t want to do an interview that’s been done before.” Maron, who’s best known for his somewhat rambling interview style that usually comes off mostly like a conversation between two people, seemed pretty nervous at the beginning, but when you’ve got a good talker like the President in your studio, it’s probably hard to worry too much.
There’s plenty for the President to worry about, however; the interview was recorded on Friday, and so the pair spent much of it discussing the Charleston shooting and racism in America. “They have captured the suspect, we’ve got a legal system. It’s gonna work, I think, the way it’s supposed to,” the President said. They touched on several of the recent racially-charged shootings, both by the hands of the police and otherwise, but Obama cautioned that it’s important to contextualize racist actions.
Do not say that nothing’s changed when it comes to race in America, unless you lived through being a black man in the 1950s or ‘60s or ‘70s. It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly in 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, discrimination in almost 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.
He continued on with the quote that’s getting the most play, because he straight-up said the word “nigger”:
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.
“Obama podcast: Uses n—- word, says US not cured of racism,” reads the Associated Press headline. “Obama uses N-word, says we are ‘not cured’ of racism,” wrote CNN. “Obama uses ‘n-word’ in interview about US race relations” - BBC. “Obama uses the N-word in podcast interview” - Politico. “Obama talks about racism, drops the ‘n word’” - USA Today. TMZ got right to the meat of it and said “fuck it” to bothering to mention that it had a context: “PRESIDENT OBAMA DROPS THE N-WORD.”
Moving past language choices, the President also came down hard on gun violence:
There is no other advanced nation on earth that tolerates multiple shootings on a regular basis and considers it normal. And to some degree that’s what’s happened in this country. It’s become something we expect. ‘It’s a crazy person, you can’t help it.’ But the truth is, this doesn’t happen in other countries.
“I don’t see any real action taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency,” Obama added. “If you don’t have that kind of public and voter pressure, it’s not going to change from the inside.”
He was decidedly less chill after mentioning the Sandy Hook shooting; watching as Congress “literally does nothing” was “the closest I came to feeling disgusted,” he said.
On a broader scale, the two discussed Obama’s take on the political machine. “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,” he said. “Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements.”
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, common sense of ordinary folks to express itself in the decisions that are made about how the country moves forward?
On a personal level, the President credited much of his ability to maintain a calm to where he grew up, calling himself “an optimistic guy.”
“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 in the long term. And look, some of it’s temperament. Part of this is just being born in Hawaii,” he said. “I feel like that fortified me, there’s a certain element of chill, you’ve got a little Hawaii in the mind.”
The pair also discussed Obama’s love for his family, and how his somewhat absent father shaped his parenting goals. “It was very important to me to be a good dad,” he said, explaining that Michelle’s more traditional upbringing “helped ground me in a way that allowed my kids to have this base for themselves.”
As is typical of Maron’s interviews, the two discussed their favorite comedians (Obama loves Richard Pryor and Louis C.K.) and had a short debrief at the end about how it went. “It didn’t have that sort of nice ease into it,” Obama said, before Maron clarified that that’s not really his style. “I went with it, I rolled with it,” the President added. He certainly did, but then again, the interview wasn’t as much a first for him as it was for his interviewer.
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