The Question Barack Obama Would Ask The Presidential Candidates

Obama's question is important but rarely asked of those who would rule the free world. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In a wide-ranging interview, NPR's Steve Inskeep asked President Obama, who is nearing the end of his second term in office, what one question he would ask those currently vying for his job. Obama's answer was, "Why do you want to do this?"

Obama elaborated:

And I suppose they'd give a cliché answer because that's what candidates do. But I will tell you, as president, if you're interested just because you like the title or you like the trappings or you like the power or the fame or the celebrity, that side of it wears off pretty quick.

Obama didn't name names, but it takes little effort to read in his words jabs at several of those seeking the Republican nod for president. A popular narrative surrounding U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is that he's in it for the name recognition. Pointing to Rubio's underdeveloped ground game in Iowa and New Hampshire, Alex Pareene of Gawker writes,

The problem with that sort of campaign is that it isn't one. It's simply not a strategy that a person who wants to be president would choose to achieve that''s more or less what a political scientist and a veteran campaign strategist would collaboratively design as a hypothetical worst-practices presidential campaign strategy. So what is Marco Rubio actually doing? Does he just want to make a bunch of rich friends?

And for years, a common refrain against Donald Trump has been that his multiple abortive bids for the presidency were convoluted publicity stunts designed to drum up interest for his reality television show and other business ventures. This time around, conventional wisdom among the media class is that Trump is running for president because the president of the United States is the most-talked about, most-written about person on the planet, and Trump loves fame.

Obama's further remarks are also easily interpreted as digs at Trump and other Republicans. "I don't think this country works best on fear," Obama said. "I don't think this country works best on hate." Trump and other Republicans' calls to staunch the flow of Syrian refugees to the U.S. were labeled as fear-driven overreactions by Obama and the Democrats. And Obama, in audio from the same NPR interview released earlier, criticized Trump for preying on the fear of blue-collar white men:

[P]articularly blue-collar men have had a lot of trouble in this new economy, where they are no longer getting the same bargain that they got when they were going to a factory and able to support their families on a single paycheck, you combine those things and it means that there is going to be potential anger, frustration, fear. Some of it justified but just misdirected. I think somebody like Mr. Trump is taking advantage of that. That's what he's exploiting during the course of his campaign.