In a widely discussed episode of comedian Marc Maron’s WTF podcast released Monday, President Obama discussed racism, gun control and what he considers his greatest achievements in office. Although there were lighter moments, such as when Obama ribbed Maron for being “a little narcissistic” for pasting photos of himself in his garage (where the interview took place) and joking about how his daughters find him boring, the president fielded more serious questions in a measured and often earnest fashion. Here are the ten most thought-provoking quotes the president said over the course of the hour-long interview.
1. On the time Congress most “disgusted” him.
“Right after Sandy Hook, Newtown, when 20 six-year-olds are gunned down and Congress literally does nothing, that’s the closest I came to feeling disgusted. I was pretty disgusted.”
He added that “that’s the exception rather than the rule.”
2. On race relations in America (in which the president says the n-word).
“I always tell young people 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 Sixties or Seventies.’ It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours and that opportunities have opened up and that attitudes have changed. That is a fact. What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, that casts a long shadow and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. Racism, we are not cured of. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say ‘nigger’ 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 two to 300 years prior and so what I tried to describe in the Selma speech that I gave, commemorating the march there, again is a notion that progress is real and we have to take hope from that progress.”
3. On breaking the cycles of poverty and racism.
“What are we doing to help…lowest-income communities? We know, for example, that early childhood education works. That is one way to break the legacy of racism and poverty. If a 3-year-old, 4-year-old kid is in an environment of love and is getting a good meal and has a teacher that is trained in early childhood development and is hearing enough words and is being engaged enough, they can get to where a middle-class kid is pretty quickly….What hasn’t happened is us making a collective commitment to do it.”
4. On Charleston.
“During the course of my presidency, it feels as if a couple times a year I end 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 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.”
5. On our country’s gun laws.
“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….The question is just, is there a way of accommodating that legitimate set of traditions with 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 and suddenly is packing and can do enormous harm. And that is something that we have not ever fully come to terms with and 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 they say to themselves, ‘This is not normal.'”
6. On the fight against terrorism.
“We ended two wars. But I always said from the start that there really are people out there who would have no compunction about just blowing up an entire neighborhood of Americans – innocent men, women and children – for ideological reasons. We have to deal with that. That then means that we do have to be able to identify those networks. We do have to, when we can find those folks, try to prevent them from doing what they’re doing. And so, for the last six-and-a-half years what I’ve tried to do is to build up a legal structure that is consistent with our values and due process, build up an intelligence system that is consistent with our civil liberties.”
7. On being, basically, America’s “middle management.”
“We’ve got to be mindful that whatever abstract views you have about drones or that you have about intelligence gathering that if you were sitting there in the Situation Room, you’d realize that you’ve got some responsibilities and you’ve got some choices to make. And it’s not all clear-cut the way oftentimes it gets presented. So I guess to go to the point…it’s like middle management. Sometimes your job is just to make stuff work.”
8. On whether we’re better off than we were four years ago.
“When I take an unemployment rate of 10 percent down to 5.5 percent, when I drive the uninsured rate to the lowest it’s ever been, when I restore people’s 401(k)s, when I make sure that we’re doubling clean energy, and we are reducing our carbon footprint, and high school graduations are the highest they’ve ever been, and college attendance is the highest it’s ever been, and LGBT rights have been recognized and solidified in ways that we couldn’t even imagine ten years ago – when I look at those things, 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. We’ve made a difference in people’s lives. And that is ultimately what you’re looking for.”
9. On dealing with stress.
“I have learned not to worry about the day-to-day and to stay focused on what I need to do for the American people.”
10. On running for another term, if he could.
“I was talking to somebody the other day about why I actually think I’m a better president and would be a better candidate if I were running again than I ever have been. It’s sort of like an athlete. You might slow down a little bit, and you might not jump as high as you used to, but I know what I’m doing, and I’m fearless.”