You know, the first line of your… of your biography will almost certainly be not something you did but who you are: the first African American president. And yet, you’re half-white. Are you comfortable with this characterization of you?
I am, actually. The essence of the African American experience is we’re a hybrid people, be… because the… the… the concept of race in America is not just genetic; it’s cultural. It’s this notion of a people who look different than the mainstream, suffering discrimination and for many decades terrible oppression, but somehow being able to make out of that a music and a language and a faith and a patriotism and a belief in this project we call America that is unique.
And…and so for me to say that I’m African American doesn’t preclude, you know, all the values that my mother and grandparents taught me. It’s entirely consistent with those values.
Do you think that some of the animus toward… against you has been racial? And if… and if the answer is yes, it must enrage you.
Conservative ideology exists independent of racial prejudice. There are people who dislike me because they think I’m a liberal; because they think that I represent an expansion of federal power and they’re all about states’ rights; they worry about high taxes; and they’d be just as mad if a white president they thought, was somehow encroaching on their liberty when it comes to guns, right? So… so there are a whole series of issues why people would be upset regardless of my race.
I think there’s no doubt that those nonracial, ideological objections have interacted with, you know, a… a long-term set of concerns about people who are different, whether it’s African Americans, or immigrants, or Muslims. I think there’s a reason why, you know, attitudes about my presidency among whites in northern states are very different from whites in southern states.
You know, on the other hand, there are folks who are also excited, and probably voted for me because they were excited about an African American president and might have been more critical of me if I hadn’t been – certainly within the African American community.
I did get elected with the majority of the vote twice, and that gives you a sense of the degree to which the overwhelming majority of… of the American people are fair-minded and judge me on the merits and not on the basis of race. And… and that’s probably why I don’t get enraged. You know, there… there are times where I might get a little irritated, but I try to keep it to myself.
You know, you have this famous calm, this equanimity. And I just wonder – underneath it, there must be anger or fear. Is this a shield that you have developed?
I tell you, i… if you talk to Michelle or my kids or my best friends, people who know me pretty well – I… I am genuinely a pretty calm guy. Most of the time, I… I am optimistic about America. I am somebody who, I think, instinctively takes the long view on things. I don’t get too high and I don’t believe the hype when things are going good, and I don’t get too low and believe all the doomsayers when things are going bad.
Some of it may just be, you know, that Hawaiian in me. When you’re born in really nice weather, and you get… you get a chance to go on the beach and take a dip in some really nice water, yeah, [it] washes it away, yeah.
There was a story about th… about the… your… your late-night habits and these precisely seven almonds. And I know you say it’s not actually precisely seven; you occasionally have more. There are people who tell me that, you know, when you’re at a restaurant and there’s fries there, you will try the fries, but you’ll try one French fry, which seems almost inhuman. Do you try to be very disciplined?
I think a… anybody who ends up being president has some discipline, because y… there are sacrifices along the way to get here. I think anybody who’s accomplished big things has discipline. Maybe there are rare geniuses who don’t have to apply sweat and tears and enormous amounts of time to achieve what they want to achieve. I d… I haven’t seen them, though. You know, Picasso drew a lot to become Picasso. Myles Davis played a lot of trumpet to play the way he did, and Michael Phelps, I assume, swam a lot of laps. So, I… I… I don’t know anybody who… who… who’s made their mark that… where it just falls into their lap. That’s a lesson I… Michelle and I are always teaching our kids.
So, yeah, sure, I’m a pretty disciplined guy. I think the stories tend to be apocryphal and… and a little exaggerated. Look, I wasn’t very disciplined about smoking for a long time. When it comes to eating, I tend to be pretty disciplined. I have certain weak spots. You put nachos and guacamole in front of me, I… I… I tend not to be able to refrain.