Do you see a point at which you're going to throw the whole weight of the presidency behind this, like you did on health care or financial reform?
Yes. Not only can I foresee it, but I am committed to making sure that we get an energy policy that makes sense for the country and that helps us grow at the same time as it deals with climate change in a serious way. I am just as committed to getting immigration reform done.
I've been here two years, guys. And one of the things that I just try to remember is that if we have accomplished 70 percent of what we committed to in the campaign, historic legislation, and we've got 30 percent of it undone — well, that's what the next two years is for, or maybe the next six.
Understandably, everybody has a great sense of urgency about these issues. But one of the things that I constantly want to counsel my friends is to keep the long view in mind. On social issues, something like "don't ask, don't tell." Here, I've got the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff both committed to changing the policy. That's a big deal.
You get credit for that.
Now, I am also the commander in chief of an armed forces that is in the midst of one war and wrapping up another one. So I don't think it's too much to ask, to say "Let's do this in an orderly way" — to ensure, by the way, that gays and lesbians who are serving honorably in our armed forces aren't subject to harassment and bullying and a whole bunch of other stuff once we implement the policy. I use that as an example because on each of these areas, even those where we did not get some grand legislative victory, we have made progress. We have moved in the right direction.
When people start being concerned about, "You haven't closed Guantánamo yet," I say, listen, that's something I wanted to get done by now, and I haven't gotten done because of recalcitrance from the other side. Frankly, it's an easy issue to demagogue. But what I have been able to do is to ban torture. I have been able to make sure that our intelligence agencies and our military operate under a core set of principles and rules that are true to our traditions of due process. People will say, "I don't know — you've got your Justice Department out there that's still using the state-secrets doctrine to defend against some of these previous actions." Well, I gave very specific instructions to the Department of Justice. What I've said is that we are not going to use a shroud of secrecy to excuse illegal behavior on our part. On the other hand, there are occasions where I've got to protect operatives in the field, their sources and their methods, because if those were revealed in open court, they could be subject to very great danger. There are going to be circumstances in which, yes, I can't have every operation that we're engaged in to deal with a very real terrorist threat published in Rolling Stone.
These things don't happen overnight. But we're moving in the right direction, and that's what people have to keep in mind.
What has surprised you the most about these first two years in office? What advice would you give your successor about the first two years?
Over the past two years, what I probably anticipated but you don't fully appreciate until you're in the job, is something I said earlier, which is if a problem is easy, it doesn't hit my desk. If there's an obvious solution, it never arrives here — somebody else has solved it a long time ago. The issues that cross my desk are hard and complicated, and oftentimes involve the clash not of right and wrong, but of two rights. And you're having to balance and reconcile against competing values that are equally legitimate.
What I'm very proud of is that we have, as an administration, kept our moral compass, even as we've worked through these very difficult issues. Doesn't mean we haven't made mistakes, but I think we've moved the country in a profoundly better direction just in the past two years.
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