Barack Obama shed light on the intense partisanship he experienced during his eight years as president of the United States in an in-depth interview with Vice.
During the most recent episode of “Vice Special Report: A House Divided,” which aired Friday night on HBO, the outgoing president spoke with Vice founder Shane Smith about what he had originally hoped for his presidency and how it unfolded in reality.
It’s a stark look back for Obama, whose 2008 campaign rode on the ideal of unifying the country. His presidency, however, was plagued by partisan dysfunction and an ever-gridlocked Congress.
Smith begins by outlining Obama’s goals during his campaign: “When you announced your candidacy in Springfield, you said ‘Washington must change.’ You talked about building consensus, ending petty politics,” Smith said. “So, two terms later, where are we?”
“Well, that didn’t work out, did it?” Obama said with a laugh. “You know, I could not be prouder of the work that my administration has done, but there is no doubt that one of the central goals that I had, which was to make the politics in Washington work better — to reduce the knee-jerk partisanship, to elevate the debate ― I haven’t accomplished that.”
The interview goes through some of the most controversial moments of the Obama administration, including passage of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government shutdown in 2013 and, of course, the 2016 election.
As Vice points out in the program, Congress ground to a near-halt during Obama’s presidency.
After eight years of the Obama White House, some say our nation is more divided than ever. Prominent Republicans who were interviewed for the program said Obama’s administration contributed to the divide, giving rise to the “tea party” movement.
“There would have been no tea party without the first two years of Barack Obama,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Smith. “It was a complete backlash against an overreach by the government.”
Former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) shed light on the mentality of the tea party under the Obama administration. “They were ready to burn the place down to accomplish what they wanted to accomplish,” he told Smith. “I thought burning the place down was probably not in the best interest of the party ― or the country.”
Through all of the vitriol and chaos, Obama told Smith, he remains confident in the foundation of American democracy.
“I have confidence in my ability to deal with just about anything,” he said. “More importantly, I have confidence in this country’s ability to deal with just about anything.”
However, Obama admits that he did not accomplish everything he set out to do during his presidency. “I have not changed Washington the way I wanted to change it,” he told Smith.
And with President-elect Donald Trump ― a man who has incited political violence, proposed to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S. and insulted women ― waiting in the wings, it’s anyone’s guess what the next few years will bring.
Smith called the HBO report “a cautionary tale” for Trump in an interview with Variety.
In a separate interview in The Hollywood Reporter, Smith said, “Trump is going to come to power with the same sort of level of legislative power that Obama had, in the first two years anyway. He’s going to have the Senate, the House and the Executive.”
As for whether Trump’s administration will suffer the same fate, only time will tell.
You can watch the full episode here if you are signed up for HBO.