David Axelrod

(Text only) He was a senior White House political adviser until 2011, when he left to serve as a senior strategist on Obama's re-election campaign. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 26, 2012.

(Text only) He was a senior White House political adviser until 2011, when he left to serve as a senior strategist on Obama's re-election campaign. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 26, 2012.

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    The president makes very strong statements about his abilities to be able to work in a [bipartisan] fashion. He comes to Washington; there's a lot of hopes behind the fact that he's going to be able to change Washington in a way that's certainly necessary to do. Is there some discussion in the very early days on how that's to be accomplished? Any debate over whether that's a possibility or not?

    There's no question that the president came to Washington with a history and a penchant for bipartisanship. That's what characterized his career, and he very much saw the need for it in Washington.

    But those early days were very much focused not on the political reform of Washington but on saving the country from a second Great Depression. So we were really an economic triage unit looking for the votes we needed to pass an economic recovery package and to do the other things that were necessary to pull the country away from the abyss. ...

    There wasn't a lot of time to ponder how do we forge these alliances, because simultaneously you had groups of Republican leaders meeting, even on inauguration night, to plot for the undermining of the administration, which is kind of unthinkable given the times we were in. I mean, it was a time of national emergency, but nonetheless that's what we faced.

    So the combination of our circumstances, which were we really needed to focus like a laser on the crisis at hand, and the determination of the Republican leadership to deprive us of bipartisan support, made it tough to forge the kind of coalitions that he wanted to forge.

    There was some talk that [Sen. Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] in fact ... had believed that since bipartisanship was the substructure to what Obama stood for, that it was easy to defeat him. All you had to do was prevent the Republicans from voting for anything he wanted.

    I think it was the diabolically clever strategy of the Republican leadership from the beginning to deprive the president of bipartisan support on any major issue because they knew that that would be to his political benefit.

    And that's not speculation on my part. Sen. McConnell actually did an interview with The New York Times in January of 2010 in which he bluntly stated that. And of course, subsequent to that, he said his number one priority was to defeat the president.

    So it makes for a tough environment when the leadership of the other party is enforcing with an iron fist a policy of non-cooperation.

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    ... Before the stimulus is passed, Obama goes up to Capitol Hill. He sits down with the Republican caucus. What's the intention? What takes place? What's the end result of that meeting and the attitude of the president?

    One of the most disturbing auguries of those early weeks was when the president went up to speak to the House Republican caucus about the need for this recovery package, and before he even arrived, a statement was issued saying that they were going to vote unanimously against it.

    It was a very strong signal that we were not going to get a lot of cooperation on this issue. And if we weren't going to get it on this issue, it was doubtful that we were going to get it on many others.

    And the president's point of view about that? Frustration or anger, or what is he feeling?

    I think he was kind of astonished that in the midst of what was plainly a national economic emergency, that the Republican caucus and the House wouldn't even sit down to talk about the program before they cast the unanimous vote against it.

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    Health care: Obama 'went in eyes wide open'

    ... There's a pivot to health care. The question is why, especially when some political folk, I think including yourself, as well as the economic team were warning that there were problems, that there were risks.

    I think the president knew -- he went in eyes wide open on health care -- that it was not a great political play on his part, that it would be difficult, it would be tough and ultimately could cost him politically for having done it.

    But his attitude was that this was a problem that had plagued the country for generations. Presidents back to Roosevelt had tried to tackle it. And now it was becoming a matter of critical urgency because not only were more and more people uninsured, but the cost of health care was bankrupting the government, straining businesses and families. And his belief was that if we didn't take it on now, it probably wouldn't happen, and the system would implode.

    He was presented with all the political arguments, and he said, "I get the politics of this, but if we don't do this now, it probably doesn't get done, and the system will implode." And he said: "What are we doing here? Are we going to put our approval rating on the shelf and admire it for eight years, or are we here to spend our political capital and try and do things of lasting importance for the country?" He said, "I think we have to go forward."

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    The time spent courting the Gang of Six, allowing it to go through Congress and [Sen. Max] Baucus' [D-Mont.] step-by-step tactics, the compromises that were made -- a lot of people look back and say that there was a huge amount of time lost, which had a very detrimental effect. Was it a mistake? Was it a trap to some extent that you guys fell into here?

    I don't know whether it was a trap. I think the president's intentions were to try and forge a bipartisan coalition. Many of the ideas that animated our health care bill were bipartisan ideas, including the mandate. Long before Mitt Romney implemented the mandate of Massachusetts, Republicans were touting it as part of a solution on health care in Washington.

    So his feeling was it would be better if we could forge a bipartisan consensus around it, and [he] was willing to give it some time to get that done. Did it cost us to wait? Maybe so. But on the other hand, you can't say, "I'm about bipartisanship" and not give bipartisanship a chance.

    Were there points where his advisers, or possibly you, [were] saying: "Hey, we've gone a little bit too far with the bipartisanship. If you want this ship to not sink, we've got to deal with this in a different fashion"?

    We obviously reached a point where it was clear that no matter how much we worked at it, we weren't going to get any Republicans onboard. I think Sen. McConnell was absolutely determined to see to it that we didn't get any Republicans onboard.

    We had situations where we had Republican senators who expressed support for the bill in almost all its aspects but said, "I just can't join you unless you can find 10 other Republicans, because I can't be standing out there on my own." And after a while, it became clear that that simply was never going to happen.

    ... Obama was sort of debating within himself, listening to people. How was the debate held? Give us a little flavor of what that was like ... as you were still trying to get it through the Congress, were still trying to work the avenues through Baucus' committee and such, and realizing that time is passing and one obstacle after another seems to be coming up.

    I think the president, having served in the Senate, knew that to bypass the committee and to essentially overrun the chair was a potentially counterproductive thing to do, because it ran against the protocol of the body. So he was reluctant to overrule Baucus and wanted to give it a chance to put together the coalition.

    And I think for some, in our own caucus, that was a laudable effort and one worth pursuing. Others were frustrated. But he gave it time because he thought there were some prospects there.

    And then the roundtable discussions that would take place at the White House. What was his style?

    The president's style is to ask questions about different probabilities and what the impacts of different paths would be. The one thing that was never in doubt was his commitment on the issue. I went in there in the summer of 2009 when all hell was breaking loose because of the Tea Party protests and so on. ...

    I said, "Mr. President, I think we're taking on some water here on this issue," and I went through my presentation. And he listened very respectfully, and then he said, "I'm sure you're right," he said, "but I just got back from Green Bay. I met a young woman, 36 years old. She was married, two children. Husband had insurance. She had insurance. But now they'd hit their lifetime cap, and she was faced with a prospect of not being able to pay for her treatment. She had stage IV breast cancer." And he said, "So she's worried about dying and leaving her family bankrupt."

    By now I felt him kind of gently leading me out of the Oval [Office], but he stopped and he said, "This is not the country we believe in, so let's just keep on fighting."

    And throughout the whole healthcare saga, he was the person, the sort of grandma, that kept it going. He fundamentally believed that it was essential for the fiscal soundness of the country, but also for the security of working families across this country.

  5. Ψ ShareWhat drove the Tea Party movement?

    What was going on with the Tea Party rising that summer and the vitriolic demonstrations that were taking place that were very personal to Obama? People holding up placards with him looking like the Joker and such. What was going on?

    There's always been this strain in our electorate, and certainly we saw it last election. People forget the nature of the events that [Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz.] had at the end of his campaign, that [Gov.] Sarah Palin [R-Alaska] had, that were really the forerunners of these Tea Party rallies in which things that were said -- that to his credit Sen. McCain rebuked -- that were completely out of bounds. So we always knew that was there, and I think that some of that was activated by this health care debate.

    I also think there were organized interests behind the Tea Party movement that saw it as an opportunity to build some political momentum, and [they] invested a lot of money in it. It's not any secret that the Koch brothers [David and Charles] and their organization helped fund a lot of the field operations around some of those demonstrations and around the Tea Party.

    So, you know, I think it was a mix of a strain that was in our politics and some opportunism on the part of organized interests that seized it and used it for their own purposes.

    Did the president take it personally?

    I must say that the president has grown a pretty thick skin. I think that's part of being president of the United States. One of my questions when he ran for president way back in 2007 was he had never been hit the way someone who runs for president and who is president routinely is, and I didn't know how he would react to it. And it turns out that he handles it very, very well.

    I think that he understood a, that there was opposition out there to him; b, that there were organized interests that were fanning some of that opposition. And obviously it's disquieting from the standpoint of the tenor of our politics and so on. But the big thing that he was thinking about throughout that period was getting the job done. He believed in what we were doing and was constantly thinking about what the next step should be.

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    The Congress comes back. The GOP has doubled down. They have been spurred on by the Tea Party and such. They're up till then willing to cooperate. What's the reaction at that point [of] Obama to the vehement opposition, the hopes that he could turn them around, that this opposition had just grown stronger?

    He's not one to brood. He's not one to wring his hands. He's certainly not one to panic. And generally when things get more challenging, he gets more focused.

    That's what happened. He was just focused on how to, step by step, get this done. And obviously the vehemence of the opposition on the right was a factor that we had to consider. But it was never, for him, a source of discouragement or a signal that somehow we should surrender on the fight.

    Was it a hard decision to use reconciliation?

    No, I think that it was important to complete this piece of legislation. We were so close to getting it done, reconciliation was appropriate as a vehicle. And so we took the avenue that we did. I think that it would have been unthinkable to come that far and walk away from finishing the job.

    ... Did [the president] totally understand that he was putting Democrats at risk when it came to the vote, that ... he had basically staked his presidency on health care reform?

    First of all, history will never be able to determine what element of the outcome in 2010 was a result of that or other factors. We've come through a very difficult economic period, so I don't want to lay too much on the health care vote.

    But when he appealed to both caucuses, he freely acknowledged that this was a difficult vote and maybe even a hazardous vote for some. But he appealed to that same notion in them that was driving him, which is that we've got larger responsibilities, and we're on the cusp of doing something that will make a real and lasting difference. And isn't that why we get into this work?

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    Bipartisan Battles
    Obama's reaction to the 2010 midterm loss

    The midterm loss, describe how Obama viewed it. What did it change? ...

    It was obviously a sobering outcome the midterm; you couldn't descrie it any other way. And he was very unhappy and sad about the loss of so many, but there were particular members for whom he had enormous respect who had lost their seats, and he was anguished about that.

    That said, the day after the vote, we had a meeting at the White House, ... and the president began by saying: "We got our butts kicked, and there's no doubt about it. But we can't spend a whole lot of time here gnashing our teeth and wringing our hands, because we've got a lame-duck session coming up, and I've got a long list of things that we need to get done."

    And indeed he did, and we all looked at each other and said, "What's he talking about?" I mean, everyone was sort of skeptical that in this environment you could, but he was absolutely committed to getting something done, even in the wake of this electoral disaster. And we wound up having the most productive lame-duck session in the history of the Congress.

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    Bipartisan Battles

    So he did not see the election as a rebuff of his attitudes, his theories about bipartisanship?

    I think he had an understanding of the frustrations that people were feeling. He also had a sense of his responsibilities as president to continue to try and solve problems and not to brood in a political setback.

    And so he focused on some absolutely imperative things we had to get done, particularly given the economic situation. So extending tax cuts and making sure they were in place, unemployment insurance, and taking other steps that were crucial at that moment. In addition, we passed the START [Strategic Arms Reduction]Treaty, [repealed] Don't Ask Don't Tell, and a number of other things, child nutrition bill, I think, all in that period.

    I think he was sobered by the result. It certainly was cause for reflection, but it wasn't cause for paralysis, and he was very much determined that we weren't going to be paralyzed by it.

    So your answer to people who say that Obama never brought to bear the tough-stances tools, the Chicago brass knuckle-type of politics, nor was he able to be the backslapper of Congress, to win people over like LBJ. What's your view on that?

    You can't have it both ways. You can't argue on the one hand that he suffered a dramatic defeat in 2010 in the midterm elections because he had governed in a less partisan way and had forced his will and done too many things without bipartisan support, and then argue that he can't get things done.

    He got a lot of things done, and he did it without Republican support, because the Republicans had a blood pact not to support him on any major issue. And the choice was to do nothing or to do something with the tools you had and the majority that you had. He chose to do that. And I believe it was the right thing to do.

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    A War President

    Let's talk a little about national security issues and him being a war president. Some were surprised that he was so pragmatic, or whatever term you want to use, when it comes to using executive powers, war powers. What's your thought on that?

    Anybody who was surprised by how he conducted foreign policy and national security wasn't paying attention during the campaign or before the campaign.

    I was working for him in the fall of 2002, when he announced his opposition to the war in Iraq to a group of antiwar protesters in the Federal Plaza in Chicago. And in that speech he said: "I'm not here because I oppose all war. Sometimes war is necessary." He said, "I'm opposed to this war for these reasons."

    During the campaign he was very clear. One of his fundamental critiques of the Bush foreign policy was that we focused our attention in the wrong place. Instead of going after the people who attacked us, [Osama] bin Laden and Al Qaeda, we got involved in Iraq and let bin Laden and Al Qaeda essentially get away.

    And his point was we needed to wind down the war in Iraq and intensify the pressure on bin Laden and Al Qaeda. And he said it everywhere he went during that campaign and created a bit of controversy by saying that if Pakistanis wouldn't or couldn't go after high-value Al Qaeda targets like bin Laden, that he would.

    And so everything that he's done, he was very blunt about as a candidate. There should have been no surprises for anyone.

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    A War President
    The bin Laden joke that Obama rejected

    We had lunch, he and I, in his little dining room off the Oval Office, ... and we had what I consider a very normal lunch. And in the midst of that lunch, the NSC [National Security Council], one of the briefers came in who I recognized. They asked me to leave.

    And then we met with the writers for the dinner that night, and we got a joke that was in the routine, and it was a joke about [Minnesota Gov.] Tim Pawlenty. It said: "Poor Tim Pawlenty. He had such political promise but for that unfortunate middle name bin Laden." And when we got to it, the president said, "Ah, bin Laden," he said, "that's so hackneyed; that's so yesterday. Let's take that out."

    And we all thought it didn't seem that hackneyed to us. And he said, "Put something else in." And one of the writers said we could put in Hosni. "Oh, Hosni. That's funny." And we all knew it wasn't. But he had the majority of the votes on these questions, and so we changed it.

    Then the next night my wife -- I had gone to bed early -- woke me up. She said: "You'd better get up. I think they just killed bin Laden." And my BlackBerry was burning up with messages from the White House. Turned on the TV, and as I sat there and listened to him, I realized that during that whole lunch the day before, he knew he had given this order. And he also knew that if it had gone wrong, there would not only have been dramatically negative consequences for the men he sent in, and for our country's security, but also for his own politics. It very well could have been a career-ending decision.

    We later learned that there was some debate about it, because it wasn't entirely clear that bin Laden was in that compound. I admire the fact that he was so calm, knowing that he had made this momentous decision, and I deeply admire his willingness to make it.

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    Bipartisan Battles

    We're in the 2012 campaign now. ... Have his views about working with the GOP and Congress changed much? In a second term, if he wins, what changes?

    I think he's always going to be eager to work with whomever wants to work with him. But his first responsibility is to get things done for the American people, and he'll do that in any appropriate way he can.

    My hope is that when he wins this election, that the Republicans of goodwill on [Capitol] Hill -- and there are many -- will recognize that the policy of obstructionism was a failure and that the American people want greater cooperation, and that they'll [be] free to do that.

    But you know, what we can't do is decide for them what their leadership policy is going to be. That's something that voters in this country and members of that caucus will have to address.

    Have his basic views of Washington changed since four years ago?

    First of all, he had been in the Senate for several years. I don't think he had any illusions that it was going to be easy or quick work to try and change the nature of politics in Washington. No one could have imagined either the depths of the crisis we were going to walk into or the depths of the willingness of the folks on the other side to play politics on some of those issues. That was sobering for him.

    But he's a fundamentally positive person, and I believe that despite all of that, he always is going to leave the door open to cooperation. And the question is whether we can, how many we can compel to walk through that door.

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    Let's talk one thing about Michelle. How important to him is her presence felt in the White House specifically, the way policy is decided for him?

    As long as I've known them, and as long as I've worked with him, Michelle's never sort of broadly inserted herself into policy discussions. There are certain issues on which she's taken a personal leadership role: the status of military families, obviously child nutrition and fitness. So she's taken a deep interest in those issues. She's obviously interested in what he's doing, but she's never held herself out to be or tried to be a policy adviser.

    Where she has her impact is, as is true in most marriages, just in their interactions and conversations. And more often than I can even count, he will come to a conversation and say, "Michelle and I were talking last night, and she made this observation that really made sense."

    And it's always this kind of commonsense look at things. Her perspective is very much the perspective that most Americans bring to these issues. She doesn't have the kind of Washington-insider perspective on them, and therefore she's a very valuable sort of source of insight.

    It's been written that she just tolerates Washington, that she had more problems with the process than others.

    Look, I think that she did not enlist for public life. That wasn't what she envisioned. She's public-spirited. She spent a lot of her life in sort of service, but I think her main concern was for her family.

    Her kids were well rooted in Chicago. She was worried about the move. It turns out they're doing great in Washington, and after it became clear that they had established themselves, Malia and Sasha, in their own lives, she was very, very happy. That was always her principal concern.

    She's found ways in which to project herself that are meaningful and have become sort of engrossing missions for her.

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    Obama's Core Nature

    One of the things in [David] Maraniss' book [Barack Obama: The Story] is that President Obama's identity was always defined ... by the belief that he can transcend differences. ... Did his failures with the GOP affect that belief?

    No. And there's no doubt that David Maraniss was right when he said the president puts a premium on his ability to bridge divides. That was one of the first things I noticed about him when I started working with him as a politician, that he could go to deep southern Illinois, closer to Little Rock, [Ark.,] than Chicago, and be as comfortable and as well received as he would be in an inner-city church or a tony parlor in the suburbs.

    I realized very early on that probably because of the way he was raised and his background, that he felt comfortable with everyone. And he worked very hard to put himself in other people's shoes and try and understand their perspective and their point of view.

    He hasn't lost that quality. And one thing that I think he would tell you is that as he travels around this country, that despite all the vituperations, despite all the stuff that grabs headlines, his interactions with people are very positive. Even when they don't agree, they're very civil. And his belief is that America is not nearly as divided as Washington is.

    But some people describe him as insular, that there's not been a more insular president in a long time.

    The guy I know, and the guy I think who people see when he goes out and interacts with them, is a warm, unpretentious, empathetic, very feeling and caring person. What he isn't is a phony. He doesn't put on a performance to signify or kind of simulate a sense of connectedness. He is who he is.

    ... I watched him the other night in Colorado after that terrible tragedy, and sharing the stories of the people he had met. And that's the guy I know. That's how he would talk to me on the telephone. He really does put himself in other people's shoes.

    When that shooting happened, his first reaction was about his own daughters and how he would feel if they had been in that movie theater. And that's one of his great gifts, is his ability to look beyond himself and think about how other people are experiencing life.

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    So we're [in the] 2012 election. 2008 election was about hope and change. What's this election about?

    Well, at the end of the day, every election is about hope and change. This has been a difficult time for the country. We've come through the worst recession since the Great Depression. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month when we came to the White House, and it left a huge hole. It took years to create that problem, and it's going to take a long time to get out of it.

    But he has a faith, and I think it is well founded, that we are not just flotsam on the waters of history. We can control our circumstances if we make the right decisions. So if we decide that we're going to make the investment to educate and train our people better than any other country, if we make the investment to do the kinds of research and development that we've always done that lead to innovations like the Internet and make us the leader of the world in technology, if we do the things we have to to control our energy future and produce new American-made energy, our future can be very bright.

    So the hope is there. And it requires change. And yes, maybe we have to change our politics some to do that, but it's certainly still about hope and change.

    And your response to the bumper stickers out there that say "Where's the hope and change?"

    My response to bumper stickers is that bumper stickers are about worth what they're printed on.

    This isn't about slogans, and it's not about surfing the cynicism of our time. It's about whether you have real, solid ideas to make a difference in the future. And one of the things that he has is an ability to look past the politics of the moment and do things that he thinks are going to make a lasting difference. And that's what we need right now.

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    The title of this program, of course, is The Choice 2012. So what's the choice 2012?

    ... I think the choice in this election is very fundamental. Barack Obama believes that the way you build a healthy economy, grow a healthy economy, sustain a healthy economy is first by growing a robust middle class. And you do that by investing in things like education and training, investing in research and development that leads to advanced manufacturing, invest in energy, American home-grown energy, invest in the kind of roads and bridges and ports we need to transport our goods and services. There are things we need to do in order to produce an economy in which we have a growing, thriving middle class.

    The other side has a different view, and that is basically let's go back to what we were doing before the crisis. Gov. Romney believes we can cut our way to prosperity, that if we simply cut taxes at the top, if we cut Wall Street loose to make its own rules again, that somehow we're going to get a better result than we did in the last decade when that all led to a catastrophe.

    And so you have a very stark choice at a moment in time when it really is a make-or-break moment for the middle class, so I think the stakes are huge in this election.

  16. Ψ ShareObama's reaction to the debt crisis

    ... Summer of 2011, when the debt crisis, that whole big compromise was being worked out, and it came pretty close and then it fell apart, how did that affect Obama, the importance of that moment and the importance in how it redefines, if at all, the way he sees making sure that his agenda moves forward?

    I think the lesson that the president drew from the debt ceiling crisis and the brinksmanship around it was that he needs to do a better job of involving the American people more directly in the debate. And when he came back from that summer and presented the American Jobs Act to Congress, he hit the road and sold that to the American people, the need for it, the sensibility of the different aspects of it.

    Some of it got passed. One of the major planks was a temporary cut in the payroll tax, which was important to our economy. But it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't gone out and actively campaigned for it and informed people and enlisted people to that cause.

    I think it reaffirmed in him a sense that the policymaking and lawmaking process can't be an inside game. It has to be one [that] involves the American people, and he came away from that determined to keep the American people involved in the debate.

    Is there also an attitude that there's need for maybe bringing a little bit of the Chicago brass knuckles to bear sometimes?

    I think the Chicago brass knuckles is sort of a cliché. I think the president believes that the real force that motivates members of Congress to vote one way or the other is less about brass knuckles and more about ballot boxes, that the American people are the ones who bring the pressure to bear that ultimately influences how these votes in Congress turn out.

    And so his determination was to make sure that the American people understood what was being debated and would put pressure on members of Congress to support those initiatives. And I'm sure that will be true from now through his presidency.

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    Obama as a Leader

    ... We interviewed [Washington Post reporter Dan Balz] for this, and one of the things he says is that Obama sort of sees himself more as a guide, as Lincoln was, compared to a back-slapper and an arm-twister like LBJ.

    I think everybody has their own style and character. Lyndon Johnson was a lifelong legislative politician and came out of the leadership of the Congress, and so his strength was twisting arms and using all those points of leverage, many of which don't exactly exist anymore. I mean, we're talking about 50 years ago.

    President Obama believes that the greatest tool that he has is the tool of public opinion, and that ultimately what's going to move members of Congress is not sort of the inside game but the outside game, and their interest in reflecting the will of their constituents.

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    Obama's Motivation

    Any points that we haven't talked about that you think is important to understand?

    ... I was the political guy in the White House. I was the keeper of the polling and all the data. I often say that what I like about Obama so much is that he listens to me so little, that he's willing to override what is in his own political interest to do what he thinks is right. And that ultimately is what he promised the American people in 2008. He said we had to look past the next election and think about the next generation.

    I've seen him do that time and again, whether it was on the auto bailout or on health care or on some of these very difficult national security issues. He's been able to put aside his own political interests and do what he thought was right for the country, and I'll always admire him for that. That's exactly what I think we should want in a president.

    ... What makes him like that?

    I don't know. The thing that always interested me about him, having spent a lifetime in and around politicians, is that so many of them live for the approbation of the crowd. And you know, his motivation is different. He's very secure. He's very centered. And he really is motivated by trying to solve problems and to respond to challenges out there, particularly ones that impact on people's lives and their security, where he can be helpful.

    And so he's a different -- and I don't whether it was Hawaii per se, or whether it was that he had in his grandparents and in his mom some sense that he was secure.

    I think so many in politics are just insecure, so they need that approbation. And it's good to be someone who understands that there are more important things even than winning elections. That's a perspective that too few in politics have, because if you don't have that perspective, then you're willing to stand for anything and do anything. And that will never be Barack Obama.

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    Has he evolved over the last four years?

    Those gray hairs on his head are not happenstance. It's the most difficult job on the planet. And this has probably been the most difficult period in modern history to be president of the United States. And you can't help but learn through doing.

    I think he's learned sort of what the regimen is for him in terms of driving to answers and managing the process. Certainly he's learned lessons about relations with Congress.

    I think everyone emerges from that office older and wiser. I thought he was a fine president the day we arrived. In fact, I was sort of shocked at the ease with which he settled into that role. But I've no doubt that he is an even better president now, having been through the things that we've been through.

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