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​Obama looks back upon his presidency, and beyond

Eight years ago, candidate Barack Obama was campaigning for President, and our Lee Cowan was covering him. PRESIDENT Barack Obama has just under a year to go before leaving office, and he was in a reflective mood when Lee spoke with him in Detroit last Wednesday:

"It is such an extraordinary privilege to have this job," said President Barack Obama, who added, "Look, there are times where you get tired. There are times where you're frustrated."

"That you wonder why you did this?" asked Cowan.

"Absolutely. And yet, there has not been a day that I have not walked into the Oval Office and understood that at no point in my life will I ever have the chance to do as much good and make as much of a difference in the lives of people as I do right now.

"And that's precious. And so I'm going to try to squeeze every last little bit of good work that I can while I still have the chance."

The president's visit to the Motor City this past week ("If you're looking for the world's best cars and the workers who make those cars, you need to be in Detroit, Michigan!") came exactly a year to the day that his successor -- whomever he or she may be -- will move INTO the White House, and the Obamas will move OUT.

The President seems especially conscious of that calendar -- he joked after touring the North American International Auto Show that the reason he came was to browse for a new car ("I tell you what, this is a spiffy car!"). After all, he'll soon have to say goodbye to the one he's using, which is a far cry, by the way, from any car -- let alone the one he used to have.

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President Barack Obama with correspondent Lee Cowan at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
CBS News

Cowan asked, "Do you remember the first car you had? What did you have?"

"The first car I drove was my grandfather's Grenada," Mr. Obama laughed. "Which was not a shining moment for Detroit! It was not a great car."

"Not a great date car, either."

"It was not cool," Mr. Obama laughed. "I had to compensate in my coolness, given the fact that I was picking girls up in the Grenada."

Although he was all smiles, this trip had a serious message. President Obama has been struggling to communicate his successes heading into his last year in office -- and the U.S. auto industry is one example.

Both GM and Chrysler had record sales last year -- a resurgence Mr. Obama says was the result of the government bailout during the first year of his administration. It wasn't a popular idea; critics thought the new president was over-reaching, even cocky.

But in hindsight, he says, that's just what the economic crisis demanded.

"I might have benefited from being young and a little brash and not being as scared as I probably should have been," he laughed. "You know, there was probably some benefit to me thinking, 'Oh, we can fix this. We'll figure it out.'"

By some measures Mr. Obama DID figure it out.

He's overseen shrinking unemployment, a growing job market, a reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance, and diplomatic breakthroughs on both climate policy and relations with Cuba.

But his foes say those gains have been overshadowed by the rise of ISIS, the trouble in Syria, and terrorism at home.