After being honored at the White House for his lifetime achievements in the performing arts and outstanding contributions to American culture, Merle Haggard is forming an opinion about President Barack Obama based on character, not political agenda. The 73-year-old country legend, who has actually visited the White House as a guest of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in years past, made an appearance in Washington D.C. for the 33rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors. While there, he mingled with the President, the President’s wife and several other notable honorees.
“It was also nice to meet Obama and find him very different from the media makeout. It’s really almost criminal what they [the media] do with our President,” Haggard tells Rolling Stone. “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,” he continues. “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.”
“He’s not conceited,” he adds. “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.”
While his post-event conversation was deep and thoughtful, the actual evening wasn’t all so grave. Haggard enjoyed chatting with fellow honorees Paul McCartney, Oprah Winfrey and more, and he had the chance to kid around — and bond — with the President for a moment, too.
“I told him, ‘You and I have something in common: Our wives are both taller than we are,’” Haggard jokes. “And he said, ‘No! She’s got on three-inch heels! And she is not that tall!’ He was like me. He grabbed that real quick.”
Haggard’s most recent album release is 2010′s ‘I Am What I Am,’ but he’s also revealed an inkling of an upcoming musical project: a “Musketeers” supergroup of sorts with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. “I’m sure if we’re healthy and live to do it, we’ll do it,” he says.