President Obama's End-of-Year Press Conference
December 22, 2016
President Obama at his end-of-year press conference (transcribed by the White House):
So I do think it's worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks. What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations — which, as I've said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated.
This was not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme. They hacked into some Democratic Party emails that contained pretty routine stuff, some of it embarrassing or uncomfortable, because I suspect that if any of us got our emails hacked into, there might be some things that we wouldn’t want suddenly appearing on the front page of a newspaper or a telecast, even if there wasn’t anything particularly illegal or controversial about it. And then it just took off.
I mean, think about it. Some of the people who historically have been very critical of me for engaging with the Russians and having conversations with them also endorsed the President-elect, even as he was saying that we should stop sanctioning Russia and being tough on them, and work together with them against our common enemies. He was very complimentary of Mr. Putin personally.
That wasn’t news. The President-elect during the campaign said so. And some folks who had made a career out of being anti-Russian didn’t say anything about it. And then after the election, suddenly they’re asking, well, why didn’t you tell us that maybe the Russians were trying to help our candidate? Well, come on. There was a survey, some of you saw, where — now, this is just one poll, but a pretty credible source — 37 percent of Republican voters approve of Putin. Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave.
I do hope that we all just take some time, take a breath — this is certainly what I’m going to advise Democrats — to just reflect a little bit more about how can we get to a place where people are focused on working together based on at least some common set of facts. How can we have a conversation about policy that doesn’t demonize each other. How can we channel what I think is the basic decency and goodness of the American people so it reflects itself in our politics, as opposed to it being so polarized and so nasty that, in some cases, you have voters and elected officials who have more confidence and faith in a foreign adversary than they have in their neighbors.
And those go to some bigger issues. How is it that we have some voters or some elected officials who think that Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiative and school nutrition program is a greater threat to democracy than our government going after the press if they’re issuing a story they don’t like? I mean, that’s an issue that I think we’ve got to wrestle with — and we will.
People have asked me how do you feel after the election and so forth, and I say, well, look, this is a clarifying moment. It’s a useful reminder that voting counts, politics counts. What the President-elect is going to be doing is going to be very different than what I was doing, and I think people will be able to compare and contrast and make judgments about what worked for the American people.