At this late stage of his presidency, Barack Obama told HBO’s Bill Simmons he’s become like NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers when he’s in the pocket: “You can’t get distracted by what’s around you, you’ve got to be looking downfield.”
In a wide-ranging interview published by GQ magazine on Tuesday, Obama reflected on what he got wrong during his first years in office, why he’s feeling more confident in his role right now and what phone calls he’s willing to take while on a date with first lady Michelle Obama – for the record, that’s his daughters Malia and Sasha, his mother-in-law, his chief of staff and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Obama told Simmons he has a “case to make now that was harder to make earlier in my presidency.”
“We had confidence, for example, that the economic decisions that we made to stabilize the financial system and pass Wall Street reform and raise taxes on the wealthiest and pass health care—that would have a payoff. But because we had been in such a deep hole, we had to be careful about crowing success when people weren’t feeling it. And it wasn’t really until around 2014 where the attitude of the American people was, ‘The economy’s improving, I’m feeling better.’”
Still, Obama said he had tried to deliver good news with caveats so he doesn’t appear to gloat, but at the same time he feels “looser.”
“Not only do you not look like you have any fear, but you actually don’t have any fear. And I don’t at this point. The bets we made early on have paid off. Some of it does have to do with luck,” he said.
Earlier in his presidency, Obama says cockiness derailed his agenda. “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,” the president admitted.
The president also spoke about his varied reactions to racial tensions in Ferguson, compared to the tragic church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. “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,” Obama said.
The interview was lighthearted as well, with the president weighing in on what “Game of Thrones” character he would be (“the dwarf”) and what conspiracy theory about him amuses him the most. “That military exercises we were doing in Texas were designed to begin martial law so that I could usurp the Constitution and stay in power longer. Anybody who thinks I could get away with telling Michelle I’m going to be president any longer than eight years does not know my wife,” Obama said.
The president talked about his leisure time activities, which include a virtual golf range, ruled out being a Supreme Court justice, but not being part of the ownership of an NBA team, said he would’ve “enjoyed” campaigning against Donald Trump, and joked about having the Secret Service “keep an eye” on boys who may attempt to ask his older daughter Malia out on a date.
“My daughters are amazing girls. They’re smart, they’re funny. They take after their mom, and Michelle’s done a great job with them. You get these teenage moments—they love you, but what I think really affects you most is they just don’t have time for you. It’s not an active disdain for you. It’s just their calendars start filling up and they’ve got all these friends who are much more interesting,” the president said.
“Nothing beats watching your children become smarter and cooler than you are,” he added, saying he ranks ahead of the dogs in the family power rankings.