"There's the president of the United States, and then there’s the person who happens to be the President of the United States."
That's the first sentence that set the tone for the informative, and very entertaining GQ article highlighting President Barack Obama. In the 20th Anniversary issue of the magazine, Grantland founder Bill Simmons had a sit-down with POTUS, and chatted about everything from his favorite television shows (Big Break, Game of Thrones), the most entertaining conspiracy theories that he's heard about himself, Donald Trump, and policy.
In the last moments of his presidency, Obama has relaxed a little, which is reflected in the interview. This time, Obama wasn't the slick-lipped guy setting lawmakers straight by discussing how "folks want to pop off." This interview examined POTUS--the dad and the man who is as focused as a Packers Quarterback Aaron Rogers, who he shares the ability to avoid distractions while staying on task.
What's interesting about the article is what POTUS learned during his presidency, and what he took away from some of the most sensational events. Take a look at some of the most interesting parts of the interview below.
On why having a strong opinion about the social unrest in Ferguson was not an option for him
POTUS: You know, the challenge of Ferguson and all issues related to police shootings, race, and the criminal-justice system is that in order to actually get something done, you have to build consensus. Expressing simple outrage without follow-up is often counterproductive. In the case of Ferguson, I’m the attorney general’s boss. If I chime in with a strong opinion about what’s happened, not only do I stand to potentially damage subsequent law-enforcement cases, but immediately you get blowback and backlash that may make people less open to listening. What was different in Charleston was the clarity of what happened—that allowed, I think, everybody to be open to it.
The difference between how he responded to Ferguson and the Trayvon Marton cases
When the Trayvon Martin case happened, I had an honest response as a father that I think resonated with a lot of people. When Ferguson happened, there was a gap between how quickly we could pull together a police task force, recommendations. And so in that lag, it feels as if I haven’t spoken to the moment as effectively. I suspect that if I were to do it over again, there might be something I could say that would’ve crystallized it more effectively. But Ferguson—the case itself was tougher because people didn’t know what was going on exactly. In some ways the [Eric] Garner case in New York was clearer because you had on videotape exactly what had happened, and some of the subsequent cases have been more obvious.
The worst moments of his presidency
Think about 2013, right after I’d been re-elected: Our goal was to lead with a big push on immigration reform. And then, before the second inauguration has even happened, [the school shooting at] Sandy Hook happens. Which remains, by the way, the worst few days of my presidency...
And throughout 2013 and 2014, you had a series of events like that—the Snowden disclosures, Ebola, Ferguson, ISIL, and unaccompanied children coming across the borders—all sort of stacked up in a row. None of them individually unsolvable, but given the 24/7 news cycle, they just sort of pile up on each other. Even though, in the midst of this, the economy is improving and we are making real progress on education and health care and energy and so forth, political momentum turns sharply against you. And so we’ve had more than our share of stormy seas, but we’ve navigated the ship well.
The White House's biggest digital hurdle is Twitter
You are on 24/7—you have to respond immediately. The job of our office, to keep up and to respond quickly to anything that’s happening but not be consumed by it, is completely different. We’ve been building a digital team inside the White House...
That’s an example of something that I would’ve started earlier. That was a lesson that coming out of the first term, I should’ve understood. That’s why we built this team.
On gun control
Well, keep in mind that after Sandy Hook, we put forward 23 executive actions. So we haven’t been asleep at the switch in terms of executive actions that we’ve tried. There are maybe a few more that had to be scrubbed by lawyers because, essentially, with every executive action, we can count on it being challenged by somebody in Congress or, in this case, the NRA. We want to make any executive action we take as defensible as possible legally. In the absence of a movement politically in which people say, “Enough is enough,” we’re going to continue to see, unfortunately, these tragedies take place. The main thing that I’ve been trying to communicate over the last several of these horrific episodes is that, contrary to popular belief, Americans are not more violent than people in other developed countries. But they have more deadly weapons to act out their rage, and that’s the only main variable that you see between the U.S. and these other countries.
On who he would answer the phone for if he were on a date with FLOTUS
Malia and Sasha. [laughs] And maybe my mother-in-law. My national security adviser, Susan Rice, and Denis McDonough, my chief of staff. Those are the only people whose call I would take during a date night with Michelle. But the entire White House is full of people who have enormous responsibilities.
If he could go back to 2008 and tell himself one thing, it would be...
You’re going to be busy. Coming in, we were going through an unprecedented economic upheaval, combined with an upheaval in the Middle East that we hadn’t seen in our lifetimes. There was going to be a huge amount of disruption. I would probably tell myself to communicate more effectively early on than I did. We ran a great campaign. It wasn’t as great as it seems in retrospect—there’s always rose-colored glasses but there’s no doubt that we captured the country’s imagination. And somehow in those first two years, I think a certain arrogance crept in, in the sense of thinking as long as we get the policy ready, we didn’t have to sell it.
Sasha and Malia don't have time to hang out with the leader of the free world
And you just have to let go, you have to acknowledge that if you say to them, “Hey, you want to go watch this movie?” or “Hey, you want to go take a swim at the pool?” “No, sorry, Daddy. I love you, though. See you tomorrow, ’cause I’m spending the night at somebody’s house.” The golden age is between, say, 6, 7, and 12, and they’re your buddies and they just want to hang out. And after that, they will love you, but they don’t have that much time for you. And my understanding is, based on friends of mine who have older kids, is that with a little bit of luck, as long as you’re not so completely annoying during these teenage years, they’ll come back to you around 23, 24, and actually want to hang out with you. But that stretch is painful. The compensation you get for the fact that they don’t have time for you is: Nothing beats watching your children become smarter and cooler than you are. And you suddenly will hear them say something or make a joke or have an insight and you go, “Wow. I didn’t think of that.”
Read the full interview here to see what he thinks about Donald Trump, and how he's not cool with guys looking at his teenage girls.