Last week, President Obama sat down with Politico’s Glenn Thrush to talk about a variety of topics as he begins his final year in office. During the conversation he offered his thoughts on the two main Democratic candidates for president, as well as some comments about this year’s field of Republicans.
The interview starts with the president looking back to the beginnings of his 2008 run for the presidency. He says that like many candidates for the presidency, he wasn’t “ready for Broadway.” He gives credit for his success to the people who helped organize his campaign.
President Obama goes on from there to talk about how the divide between Democrats and Republicans seems to have grown during his time in office. He tells Thrush.
A singular regret for me is the fact that our body politic has become more polarized, the language, the spirit has become meaner than when I came in. And, you know, some of it just has to do with some long-term trends that have accelerated in terms of how the media has balkanized, gerrymandering, you know, super PACS.
When the topic turns to Sanders and Clinton, the president praises what Bernie is trying to accomplish.
There’s no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago? You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism?
Bernie is the idealist, according to the president, and Hillary is the pragmatist who also shares Senator Sanders’ idealism. So while it is obvious that President Obama is treading carefully to avoid offending the supporters of either, it also appears that he leans towards Clinton.
I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives. I don’t want to exaggerate those differences, though, because Hillary is really idealistic and progressive.
But while the president offers high praise for the Democrats, he heaps criticism on the Republican field, saying that this year’s candidates are much more extreme than those of just a few years ago.
To me, the relevant contrast is not between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but relevant contrast is between Bernie and Hillary and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and the vision that they’re portraying for the country and where they want to take us and how they think about everything from tax policy to immigration to foreign policy, and that gap is as wide as I’ve ever seen.
He goes on to compare Trump and Cruz to his 2008 opponent, John McCain (notice that he doesn’t mention McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin):
John McCain and I had real differences, sharp differences, but John McCain didn’t deny climate science. John McCain didn’t call for banning Muslims from the United States. You know, John McCain was a conservative, but he was well within, you know, the mainstream of not just the Republican Party but within our political dialogue. And that’s where, ultimately, any voter is going to have to pay attention is the degree to which the Republican rhetoric and Republican vision has moved not just to the right but has moved to a place that is unrecognizable.
That comment should keep the talking heads on Fox News busy for a while. It will be particularly interesting to see if Meghan McCain tries to defend her father and the current candidates at the same time.
For more of the president’s thoughts on the upcoming election and the candidates, as well as some comments about his presidency, listen to the entire “Off Message” podcast below. Or you can read the transcript here.[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/243595114″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=’166′ iframe=”true” /]
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons