After months of campaigning on-air for Obama to visit his HBO show, Maher sat down with the president for a taped interview that aired Friday, during which the president tackled a range of topics and gave his final plea to those who are still undecided about the upcoming election.
When asked about his readiness to vacate the White House after an eight-year run, Obama reflectively answered, “It is time. This has been a great run. I’ve loved this job. It is a singular privilege. I think I am as good a president now as I’ve ever been.”
Obama added, “I now see the wisdom of the founders. At a certain point, you have to let go for the democracy to work. There has to be fresh legs. You have to have the humility to recognize that you are a citizen, and you have to go back to being a citizen when this office is over.”
Maher also questioned the president about his healthcare initiative and whether or not he achieved his expectations.
“My goal in the Affordable Health Care Act was, if I could get millions of people insurance, then that’s my goal,” said Obama. “Because for them, this is not an abstraction. I see it as a starter home, and then the question is how to make sure everyone is getting it — there are still gaps in coverage.”
The judicial system also was one of the topics Obama discussed, and he passionately described it as broken with dire need of repair.
“I don’t believe the criminal justice system should be affected by the profit motive — this is the awesome power of the state that says we can take their freedom away, we can lock them up,” he noted. “The notion that you might want to incentivize locking more people in or keep them in longer or not provide the kind of rehabilitation services that can get them out of there is a problem.”
Obama continued, “I’m proud of the work we’ve done and trying to do along those lines — we still have a lot of work to do.”
Maher raised a pet issue — the legalization of marijuana — noting that “you and I could both have had our lives ruined, not by smoking it, but by getting arrested for it.” Obama acknowledged a need for “a more serious conversation about how we’re treating marijuana and our drug laws in general.”
The president also shared his concerns about the tactics of the media and how it has encouraged a climate of general distrust with consumers, telling Maher, “The question I have when it comes to the media is: How do we create a space where the truth has eyeballs? The thing I am most concerned about when I leave is the balkanization of the media, where you’ve got 800 stations and all these websites, and people have difficulty just sorting out what’s true and what’s not.”
The interview wasn’t complete without referencing the ongoing election and the volatile energy that has worn out the country for months.
Maher mentioned President Obama’s upcoming trip to Ohio as part of his campaigning itinerary on behalf of Hillary Clinton, and he couldn’t resist a dig on Donald Trump’s quote about “rigged elections.”
“Yeah, I know, you’re off to Ohio. You’ve got an election to rig!” joked Maher.
Both men broke into laughter, before Obama seriously reiterated why this election can’t be underestimated.
“The stakes are high; I know we are getting the gong, but I will say this — the choice in the election should be really clear,” he said. “I’ve worked with Hillary, I know her, she cares deeply about ordinary folks, her policies are aligned with yours and mine. Anybody sitting on the sidelines or deciding to engage in a protest vote — that’s a vote for Trump, and that will be badly damaging for this country, and that will be damaging for the world.”
For months, Maher had waged an on-air campaign to persuade the president to appear on Real Time before leaving office. Obama (to whose 2012 re-election campaign Maher famously contributed $1 million) previously had appeared on such niche programs as Marc Maron’s podcast, Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and the Zach Galifianakis-hosted talk show spoof Between Two Ferns.
And Maher’s audience agreed with him, to judge from the more than 320,000 signatures collected for an online petition he launched in February to win the president over.
Check out the Real Time interview below.