Stephanopoulos To Obama: At What Point Does Experience Become A Liability For The Presidency?


George Stephanopoulos interviewed President Obama and asked him about experience and the presidency:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, THIS WEEK: But did you succeed on your own terms? Back in the campaign you talked about Ronald Reagan changing the trajectory of the country, setting on a fundamentally different path. Do you think you did that?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think I did in the sense that there's a whole generation coming up behind us that was engaged, inspired, worked for change during the course of my presidency, saw what was possible. And that-- that-- that generation, it's coming. They're not the majority yet but they're gonna be the majority soon. And when you look at what they believe in, when they, you look at how they value diversity, how they believe in science, how they care about the environment, how they believe in, you know, everybody getting a fair shot, how they believe in not discriminating against people for sexual orientation and you know, their belief that we have to work with other countries to create a more peaceful world and-- and to alleviate poverty, that's the majority of-- of an entire generation that's coming up behind us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They didn't come out to vote?

OBAMA: Well, you know, they came out to vote for me. And they came out to vote where that-- spirit was touched. The next phase and this is part of what I'm interested in doing after I get out of the presidency is to make sure that I'm working with that next generation so that they understand you can't just rely on inspiration. There's a little perspiration involved in bringing about change too. That you have to be organized, that you have to vote even when it's not exciting.

You have to be involved during midterm elections, you have to care about what happens at a school board level. You have to be involved in terms of what's happening in your local neighborhood and what issues are there. So-- so I think that there's gonna be a lot of work to do in order to consolidate the transformations that I was interested in. But I--but the spirit's there and-- and that's not just my imagination. I think if you look at surveys and attitudes among young people, you see it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I imagine you think the presidency's something you get better at over time?

OBAMA: You do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But at what point does the experience become a liability? And what put this in my mind was reading Bob Gates' memoir. And he talks about being in the meetings with you and talking about the raid on Osama bin Laden, saying, "Maybe he's getting too cautious; he's been there too long." Is that a risk?

OBAMA: Well, what I'll say is this: I believe in term limits for presidents because I think that there is no doubt I'm a better president now than I was when I start. In fact, I-- I would argue that I-- I am the best president I've ever been over the last year or-- or two. My team is more effective than it's ever been. But what is also true is that number one, this is grueling. And sustaining the energy and focus involved in doing a good job I think starts to-- starts to gets tougher the longer you do it.

The second thing is, the bubble's the bubble. And-- and I think we've done a pretty good job staying in touch with the American people. But at a certain point you can't help but lose some feel for what's on the ground because you're not on the ground.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You didn't think Donald Trump could win?

OBAMA: Case in point. So-- so that tells me that there is-- there-- there's a utility in the democracy refreshing itself on an ongoing basis. And-- and that's part of what I tried to describe to my team and supporters after the election, there was a lot of disappointment. You know, I--what I've said to them is, "Look, we-- we ran our leg of the race and we did a darn good job." I can document-- in fact, this past week we're-- we've put out memos from every agency showing what did we do. Try to be as honest as possible. There's a little hype involved obviously. It's spin because it's our agencies. We-- we feel some pride about it. But tried to be self-critical as well. And-- and I can honestly say, George-- and I don't think there's a lot of dispute for this. You-- you can argue that we didn't get everything done that we wanted to get done, but I can make a really strong argument, and I think prove, that by almost every measure the country's better off now than when I started.

And so just to finish the thought, what that means then is that if we started here and we're now here, just like I described in health care, yeah, somebody comes in, they got new ideas, maybe ideas that are completely opposite of my ideas. Maybe some of it goes, maybe some of that progress goes back. Maybe they think of some things we didn't think of, and so in some other areas-- we can learn something.

But that just gives sort of the democracy an opportunity to test ideas, for those who lost to catch their breath, regain energy, reenergize themselves and then get back in the arena, and then we'll make some more progress in the future.

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