Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Obama: U.S. improving but isn’t cured of racism
Opinion offered in blunt terms during podcast interview
WASHINGTON — Much as President Barack Obama has battled Republicans and even fellow Democrats during his administration, he’s faced an equally difficult opponent during his six-plus years in the White House: the expectation that he would fulfill the sweeping promise of change of his 2008 campaign.
Despite the frustration of disappointed supporters, the president argued in a new interview that what he has done will leave the country on a better path.
However, the portion of the interview with comedian Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast released Monday that attracted immediate attention was the president’s use of a racial epithet while saying it was “incontrovertible” that race relations had improved in the country during his lifetime, but that the U.S. still has not been “cured” of racism.
“It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n----in public,” he said. “That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened twoto three-hundred years prior.”
A White House spokesman said Monday that the president did not use the racial epithet intentionally to be provocative but that he said it simply during what was a “a free-flowing conversation.”
“The trajectory of progress always happens in fits and starts,” Obama said. “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.”
That’s true on several issues, he argued, including the economy, climate change and education. And more broadly, he said, it’s the story of America, particularly as it relates to racism.
The more than hourlong interview, recorded Friday in the garage of Maron’s Los Angeles home, came less than a day after Obama renewed his call for stricter gun control in the wake of the mass shooting at a South Carolina church that left nine people dead. The suspect Dylann Roof, who is white, had posted a racist manifesto online that was discovered over the weekend.
In response not only to the Charleston shooting but to violent clashes between law enforcement and minorities that have riven the U.S. in recent months, Obama said the nation needs a broader sense “that what happens to those kids matters to me even if I never meet them.”
The interview offered the president an informal opportunity to expand his views on the difficulty of reconciling his own aspirations and deeply held ideology with applying them to real-world situations.
Obama said the “Hope” and “Change” posters so prevalent in his 2008 historic campaign to be the nation’s first black president captured Americans’ aspirations about where the country should be, but the challenge for him was always going to be how to “operationalize those abstract concepts into something really concrete.”
“As soon as you start talking about specifics, then the world’s complicated,” Obama said. “You’ve got these big legacy systems that you have to wrestle with, and you have to balance what you want and where you’re going with what is and what has been.”
In the end, Obama agreed with Maron’s contention that in some respects the presidency is no more than a middle-management position.
“Sometimes your job is just to make stuff work,” Obama said. “Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner 2 degrees north or south so that 10 years from now, suddenly we’re in a very different place than we were. At the moment, people may feel like we need a 50-degree turn, we don’t need a 2degree turn. And you say, well, if I turn 50 degrees the whole ship turns (over).”