Obama: Presidents ‘don’t start with a clean slate’
By: Reid J. Epstein
January 19, 2014 12:41 PM EST
President Barack Obama believes his presidency can be successful even if none of his policy goals are accomplished during his term in office, Obama told New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick.
“One of the things that I’ve learned to appreciate more as president is you are essentially a relay swimmer in a river full of rapids, and that river is history,” Obama told Remnick. “You don’t start with a clean slate, and the things you start may not come to full fruition on your timetable. But you can move things forward. And sometimes the things that start small may turn out to be fairly significant.”
Obama spoke to Remnick several times in the White House and aboard Air Force One for a profile that runs 17,000 words and is set to appear in this week’s issue.
Obama described his role as president as steering the country in a direction that’s more advantageous to the middle class and the poor, even if he doesn’t succeed in winning the reforms he seeks while in office.
“I can tell you that I will measure myself at the end of my presidency in large part by whether I began the process of rebuilding the middle class and the ladders into the middle class, and reversing the trend toward economic bifurcation in this society,” Obama said.
Without comparing himself to predecessors directly, he cited Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan as examples of presidents who steered the country to fit their will.
“America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was president when he was president. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different,” Obama said. “But I also think that, despite being the greatest president, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”
Obama also once again waded into the politics of professional football. In an interview published in January 2013, he told The New Republic that if he had a son he would have to “think long and hard before I let him play football.”
To Remnick in November, Obama was more direct.
“I would not let my son play pro football,” Obama said while the two were watching an NFL game aboard Air Force One.
Football players, Obama said, are much like smokers in their exposure to the risks of what they are doing.
“At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor. These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
Remnick also reported that first lady Michelle Obama is writing a memoir. He offered no additional details about the forthcoming book, other than to say she has already begun work on it.
And he revealed that Obama has internalized the troubled Obamacare rollout, to the point that he makes jokes about its failures. When Remnick asked Obama what he must accomplish during the rest of his term, Obama replied: “You mean, now that the Web site is working?”