"One of the things that I don’t get a chance to do as often as I’d like is just to have a conversation with somebody who I enjoy and I’m interested in; to hear from them and have a conversation with them about some of the broader cultural forces that shape our democracy and shape our ideas, and shape how we feel about citizenship and the direction that the country should be going in. And so we had this idea that why don’t I just have a conversation with somebody I really like and see how it turns out."
Last month, while traveling through Des Moines, Iowa, President Obama had the chance to sit down with one of his favorite authors -- Marilynne Robinson, who penned such novels as Home and Gilead -- for a different kind of conversation than the ones he typically has with public figures or Americans. Which is to say: He was the one asking the questions.
We pulled some of our favorite quotes from the conversation. Take a look -- and then be sure to read the full transcript of the conversation here.
"But fear was very much -- is on my mind, because I think that the basis of democracy is the willingness to assume well about other people."Marilynne Robinson
"And the thing I’ve been struggling with throughout my political career is how do you close the gap. There’s all this goodness and decency and common sense on the ground, and somehow it gets translated into rigid, dogmatic, often mean-spirited politics. And some of it has to do with all the filters that stand between ordinary people who are busy and running around trying to look after their kids and do a good job and do all the things that maintain a community, so they don’t have the chance to follow the details of complicated policy debates."President Obama
"We have a great educational system that is -- it’s really a triumph of the civilization. I don’t think there’s anything comparable in history. And it has no defenders. Most of the things we do have no defenders because people tend to feel the worst thing you can say is the truest thing you can say."Marilynne Robinson
"It is true, though, that that restlessness and that dissatisfaction which has helped us go to the moon and create the Internet and build the Transcontinental Railroad and build our land-grant colleges, that those things, born of dissatisfaction, we can very rapidly then take for granted and not tend to and not defend, and not understand how precious these things are."President Obama
"But Christianity is profoundly counterintuitive -- “Love thy neighbor as thyself” -- which I think properly understood means your neighbor is as worthy of love as you are, not that you’re actually going to be capable of this sort of superhuman feat. But you’re supposed to run against the grain. It’s supposed to be difficult. It’s supposed to be a challenge."Marilynne Robinson