DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Obama says he agrees with President-elect Donald Trump about something. He said this during the final part of an exit interview with NPR News.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Obama says they agree on political correctness, though they think about that concept rather differently. Trump framed his campaign as an attack on political correctness, saying it kept real problems from being discussed. This led to a question for President Obama.
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INSKEEP: Is President-elect Trump right that political correctness in this country has gone too far? We've discussed campus debates here...
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yeah, we have. We have. And this is a tricky issue, and here's why - because the definition of political correctness is all over the map. And I suspect the president-elect's definition of political correctness would be different than mine.
INSKEEP: The president offered a specific view of what he thinks political correctness is and is not. He said, if you're calling people racist names and somebody says you're mistaken and here's why, that's just good manners.
OBAMA: I think it's a good thing that we don't think that using the N-word is socially acceptable. I think it's a good thing that we don't refer to women in derogatory ways because I have a couple of daughters and I don't want them to feel that way.
INSKEEP: Yet here's where the president suggests he would agree with his successor. He says people should be able to talk about sensitive issues. They should allow each other space to disagree about, say, affirmative action without automatically labeling each other racist.
OBAMA: My advice to progressives like myself - and this is advice I give my own daughters who are about to head off to college - is don't go around just looking for insults. You're tough. If somebody says something you don't agree with, just, you know, engage them on their ideas. But you don't have to feel that somehow because you're a black woman that you're being assaulted. But speak out for yourself. And if you hear somebody saying something that's insulting, feel free to say to that guy, you know what? You're rude or you're ignorant. And take him on.
INSKEEP: As we talked about political correctness, the president added one more point. He suggests that some conservatives who mock liberal snowflakes as too sensitive have become awfully sensitive.
OBAMA: The irony in this debate is oftentimes you'll hear somebody like Rush Limbaugh or other conservative commentators or, you know, radio, you know, shock jocks or some conservative politicians who are very quick to jump on any evidence of progressives being, quote unquote, "politically correct," but who are constantly aggrieved and hypersensitive about the things they care about and are continually feeding this sense of victimization. And that they're being subject to reverse discrimination. You know, look, I had lived through controversies like the notion that I was trying to kill Christmas (laughter), right? Well, where'd that come from? Well, you know, well, he said happy holidays instead of merry Christmas.
INSKEEP: As the president spoke, we were sitting near a White House fireplace. Christmas decorations were draped over the mantle. Above that mantle hung a painting showing the founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. President Obama is near the end of his time in this historic space, and we were near the end of our long conversation after one more question.
I know you get letters and that your staff gives you a few letters to read each day.
INSKEEP: What have the letters been like since the election?
OBAMA: Not just Democrats for - but also for a number of young people, I think that there's been concern, fear in some cases. The letters that worry me most are letters from either teachers or students themselves where they say, you know, I'm in a majority Latino school and I'm teaching third graders, and, you know, a child will go up to a teacher and say, why don't people like me? Or, you know, a Muslim college student who starts thinking that there's no place for her in this country that she loves. Those are the most worrisome. And those are ones where I respond and say that you have to have faith in the basic goodness of this country and that it outweighs the bad.
INSKEEP: You've been writing back?
OBAMA: Yeah, I generally write back as many of the 10 letters I get a night. Now, to be fair, because, you know, I try to make sure that I'm not just getting letters from supporters, there's, you know, been some letters that say, I am so glad you're getting out of here. Good riddance (laughter). You've been a horrible president. And...
INSKEEP: You write them back, too?
OBAMA: ...America's great again. Sometimes I do. The most interesting letters I get because they're unexpected - and I'm talking about since the election - have been people who've written and said, I didn't vote for you, but I want you to know that I appreciate the manner in which you've conducted yourself in office. And I think that you've been a good dad. In some cases, they've said, in retrospect, I think you did a pretty good job. Those letters, in some ways, mean the most to me because, you know, you're persuading skeptics. But even if you haven't persuaded them on the issues, at least maybe they've recognized that I've tried to be true to the meaning of this office, that I've held it in reverence.
INSKEEP: President Obama spoke late last week at the White House.
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