WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama sat down for interviews Thursday with YouTube celebrities known for their varying degrees of eyeball-grabbing acts.
One has bathed in milk and cereal, and once ingested a heaping ladle-sized serving of cinnamon that elicited a spasmodic series of coughs. Another is a 19-year-old who offers advice about hair, makeup, fashion, and DIY projects. The third delivers video monologues on topics ranging from politics to general-interest subjects like, "The five worst places to vomit.''
One thing they all have in common: millions of people watch their videos.
The president sat down with them in an effort to reach their legions of viewers. Given the zany schtick in some of their repertoire, the interviews with GloZell Green, Bethany Mota and Hank Green were comparably staid.
The lighter moments:
— When asked what TV shows he watches in his spare time, Obama said it's mostly sports. He specifically mentioned ESPN's Sports Center.
— He long aspired to be an architect. Obama also said he would have liked to be a basketball player but realized in early adolescence that he wasn't good enough.
— What super-power would he ask for? ''The flying thing,'' Obama said at first. Upon reflection, he added: The ability to speak any language, and be able to go to any country and instantly converse with the people there.
— Unlike most interviews, Obama exchanged hugs at the end. One even got him to pose for a selfie.
— GloZell Green gave him some of her trademark green lipstick, for ''your first wife,'' she said, in a wayward reference to the first lady. Obama quickly retorted: ''My first wife? You know something I don't?... I'm going to ask Michelle to try it on — maybe tonight.''
— When Green asked him about opening relations with Cuba's Castros, she referred to their brutality and cracked that they ''put the dic in dictatorship.'' Obama smiled. But he went on to say that after 50 years of failed strategy in Cuba, it was time for a new approach.
The serious moments:
— Obama predicted that the North Korean regime would collapse. However, he said it's best to let it happen gradually, as information from the outside world filters into the country. He said it would be dangerous to try forcing change militarily, given its million-member army, nuclear weapons and proximity to a close U.S. ally, South Korea.
— He said he's tried putting constraints on drone attacks, and grieves over their use. But he insisted the use of drones has saved lives, because they cause less deaths than special-forces operations to hunt down terrorists.
— Expects more states to relax marijuana laws. He said drug penalties have been devastating in minority communities, and he's instructed his Justice Department to re-examine how they pursue non-violent offenders. He said he's happy to see Republicans backing away from the war-on-drugs approach.
— Says his State of the Union address this week served two different purposes: outlining issues where he might work with Republicans, and attempting to frame the debate on other issues like a higher minimum wage.
— One area where he's hopeful of actually achieving something with Republicans is a big infrastructure bill. Some Republicans have openly endorsed the idea. In a radio interview this week, one even suggested the Keystone XL pipeline to Canada's oilsands might eventually become part of an infrastructure package.
— Asked what his legacy will be, Obama mentioned helping to save an economy on brink of depression, creating 11 million new jobs, reducing pollution, doubling the use of clean energy, providing health insurance to more than 10 million people, and ending two wars. His opponents scoffed that while Obama was conducting these interviews Thursday, the Middle East was in turmoil with the government of Yemen apparently falling in a coup.
— Hank Green gave him a photo to sign, in which the interviewer was seen holding a pharmacy receipt for $5. That's what he now pays under his Obamacare insurance plan to treat a chronic condition. He couldn't get insurance before, and couldn't afford the drugs which cost US$1,100 per month.
— Black lives matter. Glozell Green said she cut up all her husband's hoodies. She said that if he dresses a certain way she's afraid that her husband, a retired Air Force member, might get shot by the police when he leaves the house. Obama said the vast majority of police do a tough job, well.
But he said there are biases in society — and said research shows that people see African-American males as older than they really are, and also more threatening. And Obama said that can have tragic consequences in a split-second, life-and-death decision.