By Jueseppi B.
From The New Yorker Magazine:
On and off the road with Barack Obama.
On the Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving, Barack Obama sat in the office cabin of Air Force One wearing a look of heavy-lidded annoyance. The Affordable Care Act, his signature domestic achievement and, for all its limitations, the most ambitious social legislation since the Great Society, half a century ago, was in jeopardy. His approval rating was down to forty per cent—lower than George W. Bush’s in December of 2005, when Bush admitted that the decision to invade Iraq had been based on intelligence that “turned out to be wrong.” Also, Obama said thickly, “I’ve got a fat lip.”
That morning, while playing basketball at F.B.I. headquarters, Obama went up for a rebound and came down empty-handed; he got, instead, the sort of humbling reserved for middle-aged men who stubbornly refuse the transition to the elliptical machine and Gentle Healing Yoga. This had happened before. In 2010, after taking a self-described “shellacking” in the midterm elections, Obama caught an elbow in the mouth while playing ball at Fort McNair. He wound up with a dozen stitches. The culprit then was one Reynaldo Decerega, a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Decerega wasn’t invited to play again, though Obama sent him a photograph inscribed “For Rey, the only guy that ever hit the President and didn’t get arrested. Barack.”
This time, the injury was slighter and no assailant was named—“I think it was the ball,” Obama said—but the President needed little assistance in divining the metaphor in this latest insult to his person. The pundits were declaring 2013 the worst year of his Presidency. The Republicans had been sniping at Obamacare since its passage, nearly four years earlier, and HealthCare.gov, a Web site that was undertested and overmatched, was a gift to them. There were other beribboned boxes under the tree: Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency; the failure to get anything passed on gun control or immigration reform; the unseemly waffling over whether the Egyptian coup was a coup; the solidifying wisdom in Washington that the President was “disengaged,” allergic to the forensic and seductive arts of political persuasion. The congressional Republicans quashed nearly all legislation as a matter of principle and shut down the government for sixteen days, before relenting out of sheer tactical confusion and embarrassment—and yet it was the President’s miseries that dominated the year-end summations.
Obama worried his lip with his tongue and the tip of his index finger. He sighed, slumping in his chair. The night before, Iran had agreed to freeze its nuclear program for six months. A final pact, if one could be arrived at, would end the prospect of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and the hell that could follow: terror attacks, proxy battles, regional war—take your pick. An agreement could even help normalize relations between the United States and Iran for the first time since the Islamic Revolution, in 1979. Obama put the odds of a final accord at less than even, but, still, how was this not good news?
The answer had arrived with breakfast. The Saudis, the Israelis, and the Republican leadership made their opposition known on the Sunday-morning shows and through diplomatic channels. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, called the agreement a “historic mistake.” Even a putative ally like New York Senator Chuck Schumer could go on “Meet the Press” and, fearing no retribution from the White House, hint that he might help bollix up the deal. Obama hadn’t tuned in. “I don’t watch Sunday-morning shows,” he said. “That’s been a well-established rule.” Instead, he went out to play ball.
Usually, Obama spends Sundays with his family. Now he was headed for a three-day fund-raising trip to Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, rattling the cup in one preposterous mansion after another. The prospect was dispiriting. Obama had already run his last race, and the chances that the Democratic Party will win back the House of Representatives in the 2014 midterm elections are slight. The Democrats could, in fact, lose the Senate.
For an important trip abroad, Air Force One is crowded with advisers, military aides, Secret Service people, support staff, the press pool. This trip was smaller, and I was along for the ride, sitting in a guest cabin with a couple of aides and a staffer who was tasked with keeping watch over a dark suit bag with a tag reading “The President.”
Obama spent his flight time in the private quarters in the nose of the plane, in his office compartment, or in a conference room. At one point on the trip from Andrews Air Force Base to Seattle, I was invited up front for a conversation. Obama was sitting at his desk watching the Miami Dolphins–Carolina Panthers game. Slender as a switch, he wore a white shirt and dark slacks; a flight jacket was slung over his high-backed leather chair. As we talked, mainly about the Middle East, his eyes wandered to the game. Reports of multiple concussions and retired players with early-onset dementia had been in the news all year, and so, before I left, I asked if he didn’t feel at all ambivalent about following the sport. He didn’t.
“I would not let my son play pro football,” he conceded. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm.”
The Miami defense was taking on a Keystone Kops quality, and Obama, who had lost hope on a Bears contest, was starting to lose interest in the Dolphins. “At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor,” he went on. “These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
Obama chewed furtively on a piece of Nicorette. His carriage and the cadence of his conversation are usually so measured that I was thrown by the lingering habit, the trace of indiscipline. “I’m not a purist,” he said.
Thank you The New Yorker Magazine
President Obama sat for lengthy interviews with New Yorker magazine editor David Remnick, who has written a nearly 17,000-word profile of the president as he begins his sixth year in office. Remnick interviewed Obama for hours in the Oval Office and on Air Force One late last year and earlier this month. The story is a great long-read, and you should get a cup of your favorite hot beverage and sit down with it for an hour. But here are the highlights — roughly in order of how they appeared in the story — for those on a tighter schedule:
1. The NFL: Obama feels fine about watching football despite the reports of severe concussions and retired players with brain damage. “I would not let my son play pro football,” he said. “But … these guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
2. Obama’s memoir: When Obama leaves the White House, he will write a memoir that literary agent Andrew Wylie predicted would fetch $17 million to $20 million. First lady Michelle Obama has already started to work on her memoir. Marty Nesbitt, Obama’s friend, said the president will likely focus on “human rights, education, and health and wellness.”
3. Race: Obama acknowledges that the color of his skin might have affect how some Americans perceive his presidency, but he doesn’t think it has a major overall effect one way or the other. “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President,” he said. “Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”
4. What’s in Obama’s bag: Remnick tells readers what Marvin Nicholson, Obama’s body man, carries in a bag for the president: “pens, the briefing books, the Nicorette, the Sharpies, the Advil, the throat lozenges, the iPad, the iPod, the protein bars, the bottle of Black Forest Berry Honest Tea.”
5. Obama has started socializing more: Obama said he hadn’t socialized more in the past because he has two young daughters at home. “I had two young daughters who I wanted to spend time with—and that I wasn’t in a position to work the social scene in Washington,” he said. But now that they’re older, Obama and his wife have been hosting more dinners, with the president drinking a Martini or two, and Obama sometimes pushing guests to stay past 1 a.m. “I’m a night owl! Have another drink,” the president encouraged one set of guests.
6. Obama meets with presidential historians: Obama has had a number of presidential historians over as guests, including Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert Caro, whose work on Lyndon Johnson often is cited as an example of how a president can more effectively get in his agenda through Congress. Remnick writes: “At the most recent dinner he attended at the White House, Caro had the distinct impression that Obama was cool to him, annoyed, perhaps, at the notion appearing in the press that his latest Johnson volume was an implicit rebuke to him. As we were leaving, I said to Obama, ‘You know, my book wasn’t an unspoken attack on you, it’s a book about Lyndon Johnson,’ Caro recalled.” Obama and his team continue to rebuff the idea that more social outings and pressure would lead Republicans to embrace his ideas. Obama pointed out that when Johnson “lost that historic majority [in Congress], and the glow of that landslide victory faded, he had the same problems with Congress that most Presidents at one point or another have.”
7. Marijuana: Obama said he is most concerned about the impact of drug laws on minorities and the poor. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” He added that he supports Colorado and Washington’s efforts to “go forward” with their efforts at legalization and decriminalization.
8. Malia’s career plans: Obama’s older daughter, Malia, wants to be a filmmaker.
9. Obama’s must-do list: Remnick asked Obama about what he must get done before the end of 2016. He responded,”I will measure myself at the end of my presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this society.”
10. Iran: Remnick writes that Obama believes if the current diplomatic efforts with Iran prevail, it could bring a new stability to the region. “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” Obama said. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion — not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon — you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.”
11. Syria: Obama said he feels confident that he has made the right decisions on Syria, although he confided, when prompted, that he is “haunted by what’s happened” there. But, he added, “It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq.”
12. Drones: Obama also defended his strategy of using drones to kill terrorism suspects abroad, saying that his “preference” remains to capture and prosecute them, but if that proves infeasible, “I cannot stand by and do nothing.” He continued, “What I’ve tried to do is to tighten the process so much and limit the risks of civilian casualties so much that we have the least fallout from those actions. But it’s not perfect.”
13. NSA/Snowden: Obama said he does not regard the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as comparable to the Pentagon Papers or other leaks vindicated by history. Remnick writes: “The leaks, he said, had ‘put people at risk’ but revealed nothing illegal. And though the leaks raised ‘legitimate policy questions’ about N.S.A. operations, ‘the issue then is: Is the only way to do that by giving some twenty-nine-year-old free rein to basically dump a mountain of information, much of which is definitely legal, definitely necessary for national security, and should properly be classified?’”
14. Clemency for Snowden: Asked about the prospect of a deal with Snowden, Obama responded, “I do not have a yes/no answer on clemency for Edward Snowden. This is an active case, where charges have been brought.”
15. How to address inequality: Although he is focused on inequality and economic opportunity, Obama recognizes he will have a limited capacity to address the issues. “The appetite for tax-and-transfer strategies, even among Democrats, much less among independents or Republicans, is probably somewhat limited.” Obama said. “Marshall Plan for the inner city is not going to get through Congress anytime soon.”
16. His key strength: Obama believes that his equanimity endures as one of his key strengths. “I have strengths and I have weaknesses, like every president, like every person,” he said. “I do think one of my strengths is temperament. I am comfortable with complexity, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping my moral compass while recognizing that I am a product of original sin.”
17. A president’s limited power to change: Obama said that even the greatest presidents — like Abraham Lincoln — had to operate in the currents of history. “[D]espite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.” Remnick concludes the story with Obama saying, “I just wanted to add one thing to that business about the great-man theory of history. The President of the United States cannot remake our society, and that’s probably a good thing.” Obama then adds, “Not ‘probably’. It’s definitely a good thing.”
ZDF Interview with Claus Kleber Barack Obama – heute journal 18 January 2014 (English original version)
Published on January 18, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama wants to regain lost trust. He admits in an interview with Claus Kleber data misuse and expresses understanding for the concerns of German citizens.
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