Interview with President Obama: The full transcript
KROFT: Four years ago, Springfield, cold...
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It was freezing.
KROFT: You declared your candidacy. And you said, "The reason we've not met our challenges is a failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics, the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and the trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to take on big problems." And those were eloquent words and true words. Unfortunately, they're still largely true today. Did you overpromise? Did you underestimate how difficult this was gonna be?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I didn't overpromise. And I didn't underestimate how tough this was gonna be. I always believed that this was a long-term project; this wasn't a short-term project. And, you know, for individual Americans, who are struggling right now, they have every reason to be impatient. They should want all these things solved tomorrow. It doesn't matter how good my economic theories are. If you don't have a job right now, the only economic policy you want to hear is, "I'm hired. I've got a job. I can pay my bills. I can look after my family."
But what I understood coming in was that reversing a culture here in Washington, dominated by special interests, reversing a political culture that was dominated by polls and sound bites and [a] 24-hour news cycle, reversing structural problems in our economy that have been building up for two decades, that was gonna take time. It was gonna take more than a year. It was gonna take more than two years. It was gonna take more than one term. Probably takes more than one president.
So I try to keep in mind the immediate challenges in front of me, day in and day out. How do I put people back to work and put steps in place that can help people get in the middle class and stay in the middle class? But then I also gotta take a long view and say, you know, "How are we doing in moving this big aircraft carrier a few degrees to the left then or a few degrees to the right so that we're getting to the place where we need to go?"
And-- here's the good news. You know, America usually gets there. We do it in fits and turns, but we usually get there. You know, when I was dedicating the memorial to Dr. King, I reminded people, we had a couple hundred years of slavery, and a civil war, and segregation. And it wasn't until 1954 that Brown vs. Board of Education was issued, after enormous battles, generations of freedom fighters. And then it took another ten years before legislation was passed in Congress that could actually give effect to Brown vs. Board of Education, through the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. Then it took another ten years of enforcement before you actually started to see real differences in people's day-to-day lives. Then it took another ten years before, you know, both the economic and the political advancement of African Americans occurred. And we're still not there yet.
Well, that's true of everything we do. That's true of the ability of working people to get a foothold in this new global economy. It's true of us making sure that we're cleaning up our environment, but also doing it in a way that encourages economic growth as opposed to discourages it. It's true of fixing our education system, so that every kid is learning what they need to. You know?
These are things that take time. And so we're just gonna keep on plugging away. The one thing I've prided myself on before I was President -- and it turns out that continues to be true as President -- I'm a persistent son of a gun. I just stay at it. And I'm just gonna keep on staying at it, as long as I'm in this office. And we're gonna get it right. And America will succeed. I am absolutely confident about that.
KROFT: Tell me, what do you consider your major accomplishments? If this is your last speech. What have you accomplished?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, we're not done yet. I've got five more years of stuff to do. But not only saving this country from a great depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we're gonna start lowering health care costs and you're never gonna go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts, and the system is more stable and secure. Making sure that we've got millions of kids out here who are able to go to college because we've expanded student loans and made college more affordable. Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field. Restoring America's respect around the world.
The issue here is not gonna be a list of accomplishments. As you said yourself, Steve, you know, I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president -- with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln -- just in terms of what we've gotten done in modern history. But, you know, but when it comes to the economy, we've got a lot more work to do. And we're gonna keep on at it.
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