In the debut episode of Netflix’s new series My Next Guest Needs no Introduction with David Letterman, Letterman sat down with the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama for a nearly hour-long interview, and Obama shared some poignant stories.
Along with discussing his post-presidency vacation in the British Virgin Islands with former First Lady Michelle Obama, Letterman and Obama discussed Obama’s family, racism, the Civil Rights Movement, Obama’s inspirations, and the present state of politics. Obama brought up how the partisan blurred line between fact and fiction right now has been a strain on the country’s democracy.
“One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we don’t share a common baseline of facts,” he said. “There’s a well-known senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and one time he was debating one of his less-capable colleagues and the guy got flustered and said, ‘Well Senator Moynihan, that’s just your opinion, and I have mine.’ And Moynihan says, ‘Sir, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.'”
Obama related this to the present, saying that this blurring of facts and opinions was part of what made the 2016 U.S. presidential election so exploitable to outside powers.
“What the Russians exploited — but it was already here — is we are operating in completely different information universes,” he said. “If you watch Fox News, you are living on a different planet than you are if you, you know, listen to NPR.”
At the word “planet,” the audience laughed, but Obama continued his thought. He mentioned how people are digging into their own biases, seeking out sources of information that reinforce the beliefs they already hold. Search engines like Google and social media sites like Facebook add to this by giving people what they want to see based on what they’ve already clicked on.
“At a certain point you just live in a bubble, and that’s part of why our politics are so polarized right now,” he said.
During the episode, Letterman also talked to Senator John Lewis, an instrumental figure in the Civil Rights Movement, about marching on Selma, Alabama and the path that was laid down to eventually bring Obama to the presidential office.
“John Lewis is absolutely right,” Obama said, “That he and all those other folks that marched carried me across that bridge, they carried America across that bridge.”
Letterman expressed multiple times his wish that Obama was still in the presidential office, but Obama reminded everyone that not only does the law prevent him from running again, so is Michelle.
“I’m prevented from running again by the Constitution, but even if it were not for that amendment, Michelle would leave, and I — I want her around,” Obama said.
Sure, sure; all makes sense. Please come back though?