Despite what his progressive detractors in his own party might say, President Obama believes that he's accomplished 70 percent of his campaign promises in the first two years of his presidency. Expect the rest to get done in the next two years, or perhaps the next six, he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview from the Oval Office.
In a lengthy sit down, the President discussed a wide range of topics, ranging from GOP obstruction and the Tea Party's opposition to his administration, to his accomplishments so far and his optimism that his agenda will only move forward in the upcoming years.
For his critics within the Democratic Party, Obama laid out to Rolling Stone's Jann S. Wenner his own interpretation of his current legislative victories:
I keep in my pocket a checklist of the promises I made during the campaign, and here I am, halfway through my first term, and we've probably accomplished 70 percent of the things that we said we were going to do -- and by the way, I've got two years left to finish the rest of the list, at minimum. So I think that it is very important for Democrats to take pride in what we've accomplished.
In one of many seemingly frustrated mentions of progressives being discontented by the direction and supposedly minimal gains of his presidency, Obama laid out a situation in which he was forced to compromise for the reality of less lofty but perhaps more achievable goals:
I could have had a knock-down, drag-out fight on the public option that might have energized you and The Huffington Post, and we would not have health care legislation now. I could have taken certain positions on aspects of the financial regulatory bill, where we got 90 percent of what we set out to get, and I could have held out for that last 10 percent, and we wouldn't have a bill. You've got to make a set of decisions in terms of "What are we trying to do here? Are we trying to just keep everybody ginned up for the next election, or at some point do you try to win elections because you're actually trying to govern?" I made a decision early on in my presidency that if I had an opportunity to do things that would make a difference for years to come, I'm going to go ahead and take it.
But Obama admitted that the larger opposition to his administration was coming not from the left, but from Republican legislators who he said were trying to block even his most minor moves:
Everything just seems to drag on -- even what should be routine activities, like appointments, aren't happening," Obama said. "So it created an atmosphere in which a public that is already very skeptical of government, but was maybe feeling hopeful right after my election, felt deflated and sort of felt, "We're just seeing more of the same."
As for the Tea Party movement, Obama identified it as a genuine mix of concerned, conservative Americans, but also as a grouping that possessed some less alluring individuals or sects:
And then there are probably some aspects of the Tea Party that are a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president. So I think it's hard to characterize the Tea Party as a whole, and I think it's still defining itself.
About the perceived vehicle for much of the opposition to Obama's administration, Fox News, the President may have fanned the flames of enmity between the White House and the media giant when he called it "destructive" to the country:
[Laughs] Look, as president, I swore to uphold the Constitution, and part of that Constitution is a free press. We've got a tradition in this country of a press that oftentimes is opinionated. The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition -- it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It's a point of view that I disagree with. It's a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it's been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it's that Fox is very successful.
Anti-war advocates are not likely to be encouraged by his description of his plans going forward in Afghanistan, in which he again appeared to leave the door open for military engagement beyond the initial drawdown date that is planned for July of next year:
Starting July of 2011, we will begin a transition process, and if the strategy we're engaged in isn't working, we're going to keep on re-examining it until we make sure that we've got a strategy that does work.
As for the upcoming midterm elections, Obama told Rolling Stone that there was no excuse for Democrats to stay home from the polls in November:
The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.
The AP flags this quote from the piece:
"People need to shake off this lethargy. People need to buck up," Obama told Rolling Stone in an interview to be published Friday. The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and "if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place."