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Obama Lays The Foundation For A Post White House Life


When President Obama finally has fights with Congress in his rearview mirror, he'll look ahead to building his presidential library. He's decided on a location - the South Side of Chicago - after turning down bids from Hawaii, his birthplace, and his alma mater, Columbia University in New York. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports that as Obama looks towards his post-president life, he's increasingly focusing on issues of race and poverty.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The South Side is the neighborhood where Michelle Obama grew up and Barack Obama worked as a community organizer. Later, he represented the South Side in the Illinois State Senate, so in many ways, locating his presidential library there was a no-brainer, as the Obamas explained in a video posted online by the Barack Obama Foundation yesterday.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And I really became a man when I moved to Chicago. That's where I was able to apply that early idealism to try to work in communities, in public service. That's where I met my wife. That's where my children were born.

LIASSON: The president's been busy laying the foundation for a post-White House life. In addition to the library, he'll focus on young people, particularly young men of color, through an organization he started at the White House called My Brother's Keeper. On Tuesday, he participated in a panel on poverty at Georgetown University. His themes were familiar. He's been talking for years about what economic policy can do to create ladders of opportunity into the middle class and reverse the trends of the last 40 years where income gains shrunk for the bottom 90 percent and soared for the top 10 percent. But he also described in very personal terms why family and culture and character are also important.


B. OBAMA: And the reason is is because I am a black man who grew up without a father, and I know the cost that I paid for that. And I also know that I had the capacity to break that cycle. And as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off.

LIASSON: President Obama is increasingly tying that personal story to the policy agenda he's always been comfortable talking about. Yesterday, he called again for an end to the carried interest tax loophole by which hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than kindergarten teachers. If we close that loophole, the president said, we could invest in early childhood education that would make a real difference.


B. OBAMA: That's, Arthur, where the question of compassion and I'm My Brother's Keeper comes into play. And if we can't ask from society's lottery winners to just make that modest investment, then really, this conversation is for show.

LIASSON: Michelle Obama has also been more willing to talk about her personal story. She gave a commencement address at Tuskegee University last weekend where she told the young African-American graduates that she and her husband knew what it was like to have others make assumptions about who they think you are.


FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA: We've both felt the sting of those daily slights throughout our entire lives - the folks who crossed the street in fear of their safety, the clerks who kept a close eye on us in all those department stores, the people at formal events who assumed we were the help and those who have questioned our intelligence, our honesty, even our love of this country.

LIASSON: As their time in office grows short, both Obamas are engaging more easily in conversations about race and poverty, conversations they plan to continue long after they leave the White House and move back home to Chicago. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.


M. OBAMA: One of my grandfathers, you know what we called him?

B. OBAMA: South Side.

M. OBAMA: We called him South Side. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.