President Obama wants Americans to know before he leaves office that many of them were only unhappy with his administration due to a “fictional” representation promulgated by conservative media outlets.
The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates recently sat down with Mr. Obama for a series the magazine calls “My President Was Black.” The project is based on interviews conducted Oct. 19, but the first two parts were published Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I’m not saying I’m impervious to criticism — but one of the things that you come pretty early on to understand in this job, and you start figuring out even during the course of the campaign, is that there’s Barack Obama the person and there’s Barack Obama the symbol, or the office holder, or what people are seeing on television, or just a representative of power,” Mr. Obama said while recounting a brusque encounter with an activist.
The president added that people who respond negatively toward him are often not doing so based on a perception rooted in reality.
“Usually they’re responding to this character that they’re seeing on TV called Barack Obama, or to the office of the presidency and the White House and what that represents,” he told Mr. Coates. “And so you don’t take it personally. You understand that if people are angry that somehow the government is failing, then they are going to look to the guy who represents government. And that applies, by the way, even to some of the folks who are now Trump supporters. They’re responding to a fictional character named Barack Obama who they see on Fox News or who they hear about through Rush Limbaugh.”
He added at another point that some of his early confidence came as a result of not being subjected to the “concentrated vilification of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the whole conservative-media ecosystem,” as an Illinois state senator.
“People basically saw me unfiltered,” Mr. Obama said. “I was at a town-hall meeting, or I was talking to people directly, or they had met me, or I would speak at a university or go to a VFW hall. But they weren’t seeing some image of me as trying to take away their stuff and give it to black people, and coddle criminals, and all the stereotypes of not just African-American politicians but liberal politicians. You started to see that kind of prism being established towards the end of the 2008 race, particularly once Sarah Palin was the nominee.”
Mr. Obama went on to capture over 69 million votes against Republican rival John McCain. He also crushed the Arizona senator in Electoral College with 365 votes compared to Mr. McCain’s 173.