Barack Obama Once Hinted He Misses Being Unrecognizable Since His Presidency

As the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama transformed into one of the most recognizable people on the planet, with star power beyond his status as a politician. During the 2008 presidential election, John McCain ran an ad that called Obama "the biggest celebrity in the world," although this was meant to imply Obama had more fame than political prowess. Instead, for eight years as president, Obama harnessed his pop-culture savvy to communicate political messages. In 2009, he was a guest on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" — the first president to guest on this type of program while in office. 

Obama's two terms coincided with significant growth in social media, and his fame skyrocketed as he used these new opportunities to reach Americans. "People aren't part of one conversation; they're part of a million," Obama explained in The New York Times. "You're drawing on where the culture is to get the message out." In 2015, Obama did a video for BuzzFeed. Viewed 62 million times, it included him primping in the mirror, taking selfies, and a message to sign up for Obamacare.

Fame aside, Obama sometimes wishes he could be anonymous in public. During his 2015 appearance on "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," Jerry Seinfeld asked Obama to describe something unattainable that he wanted to do. The then-president described a carefree Saturday morning where he could stroll and have casual conversations. "Anonymity is not something you think about as being valuable," Obama explained to Seinfeld

Barack Obama equates anonymity with the excitement of winning the lottery

Post-White House, Barack Obama's recognizability remains high. Obama won an Emmy for narrating the Netflix docuseries "Our Great National Parks," and he wrote a bestselling memoir, "A Promised Land." In addition, he's continued appearing on late-night TV, and on streaming media, discussing issues like A.I. technology.  Despite his decision to remain in the spotlight, Obama still reflects on his desire to appear incognito in public. 

During a June 2023 interview, Hasan Minhaj asked Obama if it felt surreal to live in the White House. Obama acknowledged that the first morning he woke up there, he felt rather awestruck. However, Obama noted that the sweetest dreams he had as president were ones where he moved through life unnoticed. He described a sunny scene where he'd go walking and treat himself to iced coffee. "I'd sit on a bench and suddenly I realized that nobody recognizes me," Obama told Minhaj. "And that's the only thing that happened in the dream: I'd just be sitting there, chill. And I felt like I won the lottery."

When he envisioned life post-presidency, Obama presumed he'd recapture some of his previous anonymity. While that didn't come to pass, Obama did feel like a normal, non-famous person when he masked up during the COVID-19 pandemic and traveled around Martha's Vineyard. Although he'll never truly be unrecognizable again, Obama is sanguine about post-presidency perks, like the freedom to plan his day and choose his projects. 

Anonymity aside, Barack Obama can enjoy life's simple pleasures

While Barack Obama will likely attract attention in public for the rest of his life, he's able to fly under the radar more now that he's no longer president. In their post-White House lives, he and Michelle Obama still have security personnel. However, as a former president and first lady, they have more flexibility when they go for a walk or out to a restaurant since the security plans are less elaborate. 

According to Barack Obama, Michelle did not share his illusions about being unrecognizable after they left the White House.  Instead, she focused on savoring small joys, like sitting outside on her patio and going to her daughters' sporting events. "We're out in the real world. We have a house," Michelle informed said on "Today." Speaking to Ellen DeGeneres, Michelle noted that unlike when her family lived at the White House, she now answers her own door. This normalcy is also a surprising change for visitors to the Obama home. Previously, guests were accustomed to multiple security checkpoints and an elevator before greeting the couple. 

Even though the couple didn't recoup anonymity when President Obama's second term ended, they did get a reprieve from the stress of their former roles.  Once they left the White House, the Obamas could focus on their marriage.  "We have dinners alone and chunks of time where it's just us," Michelle told People. "No kids, no publicity, no nothing. Just us and our dreams."