In an event that’s a landmark for podcasting (and for comedian/WTF host Marc Maron), as well as another instance where the president is reaching beyond the typical channels to communicate with the country, Barack Obama visited Marc Maron’s garage/recording studio on Friday, and the results of their hour-long conversation are now available for all of us to listen to. But maybe you don’t have an hour right now, and maybe you need to have the highlights so you can seem as though you’re in the know with your less hardworking friends who can totally listen to a podcast while at work. That’s cool. We get you, and we got you with this recap of President Obama’s appearance on WTF.
Bits and pieces:
At the start of the episode, Maron very briefly went into the process of having a president pop by your house to record a podcast, and seemed a bit on edge and not at all confident that the president would feel as comfortable in The Garage as he had at Tyler Perry’s house, where Obama apparently was the night before. The intro to President Obama went well, with the president offering up some commentary on Maron’s garage, praising his “Gimme Shelter” poster, “some drawings and pictures that we can’t discuss,” and a lot of pictures of Maron, which the president said was “a little narcissistic.”
The interview itself was fine, rarely going deep with regard to Barack Obama, the man, save for a bit at the end about his family and a bit in the beginning about his upbringing. It also didn’t feel like a stump speech or an issue ad, though, which isn’t something you could say about the president’s prior new-media appearance on Between Two Ferns. This was a snapshot of a president nearing the end of his second term, weathered and wizened, perhaps. A president just a day after dealing with the latest massacre on American soil.
President Obama on the Charleston murders:
“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 of times a year, I wind up having to speak to the country and to speak to a particular community about a devastating loss. And the grieving that the country feels is real. The sympathy, obviously the prioritizing, comforting the families, all of that’s important. But I think 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. That, by the way, a majority of gun owners support. This is unique to our country. 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 that we expect.”
Obama also referenced Australia’s response to the 1996 Port Arthur mass shooting and how they have avoided repeat incidents. He also spoke to the need to be respectful of the traditions of gun ownership in America, while mixing in “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.”
Legislative inaction regarding gun safety:
“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 foresee any real action being taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and the say to themselves, ‘This is not normal, this is something that we can change, and we’re going to change it.'”
The job of being president and the frustrations of his job:
There’s an element to the presidency that’s sort of “middle-management” according to Maron, but Obama re-framed that by pointing out that the job is one that requires an individual to be flexible and find balance, saying, “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,” before pointing to the healthcare debate and the challenges of modifying the pre-existing system over tearing the whole thing down.
When the topic came around to the frustrations of his job, Obama listed off a few policy wins and sea changes that he’s observed and said, “We’ve made a difference in people’s lives […], if you take that long view, then you’re less nervous or stressed about the day to day ups and downs.”
While the president typically takes that long view, there are moments that pull him away from that calm place.
“I will tell you, right after Sandy Hook… Newtown. When 20 6-year-olds are gunned down, and Congress literally does nothing. Yeah. That’s the closest I came to feeling disgusted. I was pretty disgusted.”
The president also said, “I believe in reason, and I believe in facts,” before talking about the frustrations of participating in debates where those facts don’t seem to matter as much to the other side.
Racism in America:
“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,” adding, “Racism. We are not cured of it. It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n*gger in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.”
When Maron asked about how the president compartmentalizes and was able to, for instance, joke at a Corespondent’s dinner, while the mission to capture Bin Laden was underway, the president compared his job to that of a comedian or another performer and said, “You lose fear,” and, “I know what I’m doing, and I’m fearless,” when talking about the benefits that having done the job for so long have bestowed upon him in those moments. He also went in-depth about his own comedy preferences, naming Dick Gregory, Jerry Seinfeld, and others.
Once again, a monumental moment in podcasting and a nice window into the president’s mindset at this time. Listen to the whole thing when you have the chance. It’s worth your time.