Merle Haggard, who likes Obama, compliments him by saying, 'I think he knows he's in over his head'
Country music legend Merle Haggard was at the White House this month to receive a Kennedy Center Honor, an award presented by the president of the United States that recognizes a lifetime achievement in the performing arts
Not bad for an ex-con from Kern County best known for his monster hit "Okie from Muskogee."
While talking with Rolling Stone, Haggard, who had previously met Richard Nixon and (then-governor) Ronald Reagan, seemed troubled with the media's representation of President Barack Obama.
"It was also nice to meet Obama and find him very different from the media makeout," Haggard told the magazine. "It's really almost criminal what they do with our president. There seems to be no shame or anything. They call him all kinds of names all day long, saying he's doing certain things that he's not. It's just a big old political game that I don't want to be part of. There are people spending their lives putting him down. I'm sure some of it's true and some of it's not. I was very surprised to find the man very humble and he had a nice handshake. His wife was very cordial to the guests and especially me. They made a special effort to make me feel welcome. It was not at all the way the media described him to be."
But the most interesting comment appeared to be a back-handed compliment. When asked about Obama's biggest misconception, Haggard, 73, said, "He's not conceited. He's very humble about being the president of the United States, especially in comparison to some presidents we've had who come across like they don't need anybody's help. I think he knows he's in over his head. Anybody with any sense who takes that job and thinks they can handle it must be an idiot."
Obama has recently been criticized by some for praising the owner of the Philadephia Eagles for giving Michael Vick a second chance after he served time in prison for abusing dogs. Perhaps honoring Haggard, who was arrested 17 times as a child and wrote "Okie" after being released from San Quentin Prison when he was 30, planted a seed in Obama's head about what can happen to people once they have truly rehabilitated from crime.
"In a day and age when so many country singers claim to be rambling, gambling outlaws, Merle actually is one," Obama said of Haggard at the ceremony Dec. 5. "He hopped his first freight train at the age of 10, and was locked up some 17 times as a boy -- pulling off almost as many escapes.
"Later," the president continued, "after becoming a bona fide country star, Merle met Johnny Cash, and mentioned that he had seen Cash perform years earlier at San Quentin Prison. 'That's funny,' Cash said, 'because I don't remember you being in the show.' And Merle had to explain to the Man in Black that he hadn't been in the show, he had been in the audience."
Nobody tell Tucker Carlson.
-- Tony Pierce
Photo: Kennedy Center honoree Merle Haggard and his wife pose on the red carpet in Washington on Dec. 5. Credit: Nicholas Kammi /AFP/Getty Images