Former President Barack Obama has admitted he didn’t always tell the truth about racism and America’s history because doing so would have prevented him from passing healthcare and other legislation.
During an interview with a podcast entitled “The Ezra Klein Show” – some of which was published in the New York Times – Obama was asked several questions based on some of the things he shared in his memoir. Among them was how he decided when it was more expedient to avoid “calling out arguments that you think are kind of really wrong” for the sake of success in politics.
“I think every president has to deal with this,” Obama answered. “It may have been more noticeable with me – in part because, as the first African American president, there was a presumption, not incorrect, that there were times where I was biting my tongue. That’s why the skit that Key and Peele did with the anger translator, Luther, was funny. Because people assumed Barack’s thinking something other than what he’s saying in certain circumstances.”
He continued, “A lot of times, one of the ways I would measure it would be: Is it more important for me to tell a basic, historical truth, let’s say about racism in America right now? Or is it more important for me to get a bill passed that provides a lot of people with health care that didn’t have it before?”
Obama added that not telling the truth about racism and America’s history at times did take its toll on him. “There’s a psychic cost to not always just telling the truth. And I think there were times where supporters of mine would get frustrated if I wasn’t being as forthright about certain things as I might otherwise be, Obama said. “Then there are also just institutional constraints that I think every president has to follow on some of these issues. And it was sort of on a case-by-case basis where you try to make decisions.”
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The admission comes after years of criticism from many of Obama’s one-time supporters, specifically, those who are Black Americans. Many say they felt betrayed by the 44th Commander-in-Chief. As the nation’s first Black president, some even posit Obama didn’t do anything substantial for the Black community other than providing symbolism. They expected more and were quick to point this out in response to Obama’s interview.
“@AprilDRyan Obama said he couldn’t even speak out on the killing of black people by police because institutional constraints. Would you please investigate and provide the people with a list of institutional constraints he was talking about?” Twitter user @sncstanley wrote. “I ask because, Obama served as the most powerful man in the world for 8 years, and for 8 years he’s now saying he was restrained from speaking up/doing “anything” about the police killing black people.”
User @notyerrrnegro added, “some of the angriest years of my life were during the Obama administration man all that nigga did was bomb civilians abroad and play in Black people’s face when they were demanding structural change happen. Representational politics will be the death of us.”
While Obama said he recognized why some people were frustrated – noting there were times when he was “sufficiently disappointed” and “would just go off” about issues like failure to pass gun safety after exhausting every other possibility – he also persisted in his belief that tradeoffs like avoiding broaching topics like racism and America’s history in certain cases when trying to pass policy are just necessary at times.
“That’s been the history of America, right? There is abolition, and the Civil War, and then there’s backlash, and the rise of the K.K.K., and then Reconstruction ends, and Jim Crow arises, and then you have a civil rights movement, a modern civil rights movement, and desegregation. And that in turn leads to push back and ultimately Nixon’s Southern strategy,” Obama said. “What I take comfort from is that in the traditional two steps forward, one step back, as long as you’re getting the two steps, then the one step back, you know, is the price of doing business.”
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