President Obama sat for lengthy interviews with the editor of the New Yorker, David Remnick, who wrote a nearly 17,000-word profile of the president in this week’s edition. Remnick interviewed Obama for hours in the Oval Office and on Air Force One over recent months. Here are 10 highlights for the time-crunched:
1. The NFL: Obama feels fine about watching football despite the reports of severe concussions and retired players with brain damage. “I would not let my son play pro football,” he said. “But . . . these guys, they know what they’re doing.”
2. Obama’s memoir: When Obama leaves the White House, he will write a memoir that literary agent Andrew Wylie predicted would fetch $17 million to $20 million. First lady Michelle Obama is already working on her book.
3. Obama has started entertaining more: Obama said he hadn’t socialized more in the past because of his children. “I had two young daughters who I wanted to spend time with — and that I wasn’t in a position to work the social scene in Washington,” he said. But now that their daughters are older, Obama and the first lady have been hosting more dinners, with the president drinking a martini or two and sometimes pushing guests to stay past 1 a.m. “I’m a night owl! Have another drink,” he encouraged one set of guests.
4. Obama meets with presidential historians: Obama has had presidential historians over as guests, including Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert Caro. Remnick writes: “At the most recent dinner he attended at the White House, Caro had the distinct impression that Obama was cool to him, annoyed, perhaps, at the notion appearing in the press that his latest Johnson volume was an implicit rebuke to him. As we were leaving, I said to Obama, ‘You know, my book wasn’t an unspoken attack on you, it’s a book about Lyndon Johnson,’ Caro recalled.”
5. Marijuana: Obama said that it’s not “more dangerous than alcohol” and that he is most concerned about the effect of drug laws on minorities and the poor. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. He added that he supports efforts by Colorado and Washington state to “go forward” on legalization and decriminalization.
6. Malia’s career plans: Obama’s older daughter, Malia, wants to be a filmmaker.
7. Iran: Remnick writes that Obama believes that if the ongoing diplomatic efforts with Iran prevail, it could bring a new stability to the region. Obama said, “[A]lthough it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion — not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon — you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.”
8. Syria: Obama said, when prompted, that he is “haunted by what’s happened” there. But, he added, “it is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which our involvement in Syria would have led to a better outcome, short of us being willing to undertake an effort in size and scope similar to what we did in Iraq.”
9. NSA/Snowden: Obama said he does not regard the leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as comparable to the Pentagon Papers or other leaks vindicated by history. Remnick writes: “The leaks, he said, had ‘put people at risk’ but revealed nothing illegal. And though the leaks raised ‘legitimate policy questions’ about N.S.A. operations, ‘the issue then is: Is the only way to do that by giving some twenty-nine-year-old free rein to basically dump a mountain of information’ ” on the media?
10. A president’s limited power to effect change: Obama said that even the greatest presidents — like Abraham Lincoln — had to operate in the currents of history. “[I]t took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. . . . [A]t the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”