In a wide-ranging, year-end interview with National Public Radio, President Obama says he makes “no apologies” for going after ISIS “appropriately and in a way that is consistent with American values.”
The interview comes as Obama’s strategy to fight terror is receiving low approval from the public and fierce criticism from the right for not being more forceful.
The president also discusses his concern that campus activists aren’t hearing other points of view, the legacy of his climate deal and why he feels Donald Trump is “exploiting” the anger and fear of some American voters.
During the interview, Inskeep asked the president about remark he made years ago in which he identified a particular group of Americans who feel angry at the country’s leadership.
During a campaign event in 2008, Obama about people fed up with government: “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Inskeep: Years ago you made that remark, you were much criticized for saying something about people clinging to guns and religion. This is before you were even elected president. And although you were criticized for the phrasing of that, it seemed to me that you were attempting to figure out, what is it that people are thinking, what is it that’s bothering people? Now you’ve had several more years to think about that.
OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, Steve, I was elected twice by decent majorities. So the fact of the matter is that in a big country like this there is always going to be folks who are frustrated, don’t like the direction of the country, are concerned about the president. Some of them may not like my policies, some of them may just not like how I walk, or my big ears or, you know. So, I mean, no politician I think aspires to 100 percent approval ratings.
If you are referring to specific strains in the Republican Party that suggest that somehow I’m different, I’m Muslim, I’m disloyal to the country, etc., which unfortunately is pretty far out there and gets some traction in certain pockets of the Republican Party, and that have been articulated by some of their elected officials, what I’d say there is that that’s probably pretty specific to me and who I am and my background, and that in some ways I may represent change that worries them.
But that’s not to suggest that everybody who objects to my policies may not have perfectly good reasons for it. If you are living in a town that historically has relied on coal and you see coal jobs diminishing, you probably are going to be more susceptible to the argument that I’ve been wiping out the economy in your area.
It doesn’t matter if I tell them actually it’s probably because natural gas is a lot cheaper now so it doesn’t pay to build coal plants. If somebody tells you that this is because of Obama’s war on coal, well, you know, that’s an argument you may be sympathetic to. And that’s perfectly legitimate. So as I said, you asked a pretty open-ended question. I think you were being a little coy in how you asked it.
INSKEEP: I’m trying to give you room to answer.
OBAMA: No, I understand, but what I’m saying is that I think that there’s always going to be, every president, a certain cohort that just doesn’t like your policies, doesn’t like your party, what have you. I think if you are talking about the specific virulence of some of the opposition directed towards me, then, you know, that may be explained by the particulars of who I am.
On the other hand, I’m not unique to that. I always try to remind people that, goodness, if you look at what they said about Jefferson or Lincoln or FDR — finding reasons not to like a president, that’s, you know, a well-traveled path here in this country.