NJ You’re a student of history. When you look at the enormous economic and social change going on right now, what era in our history can you compare this to, and what have you learned by what presidents in those times did or didn’t do?
OBAMA That’s interesting. There are different pieces of our current challenges that I can draw parallels to. Obviously, we have gone through, in the past, transitions, economic, where we went from an agricultural society to an industrial society, and we had to retrain the population to be able to get those new jobs in the future. Starting with folks like Lincoln, we made investments in human capital that allowed people to equip themselves. And that goes on right to the GI Bill. Each successive shift of the economy meant we were retooling our population, giving them the capacity to adapt in that economic climate. I think we are going through one of those periods right now. I think internationally, I’m not sure there are any parallels right now, because even though the world is more complex than ever, even though you have these emerging countries like China and India that have huge potential and are starting to throw their weight around on the world stage, we are still by far the largest, most powerful country on Earth. And as much as these countries complain about us, when we get in a real bind, when the world gets in a real bind, whether it’s who’s going to help northern and southern Sudan negotiate a referendum, or who’s going to effectively assist Haiti after an earthquake, lo and behold, it turns out that everybody’s expecting the United States to carry the weight on this. So, in that sense, I think we are not like Great Britain, when militarily it was declining. Because that happened fairly quickly, almost overnight, they were supplanted. It is hard to foresee, over the course of the next several decades, any country being able to catch up to us in terms of our ability to influence what’s happening around the world and being willing to take responsibility for the events that are taking place around the world. China, as rapidly as it’s growing, still spends a fraction of what we spend on our military. It still has 700 million people who are in dire poverty that they have to attend to. So when it comes to underwriting an international framework that allows for peace and security and economic stability, they’re still lagging behind and will be for a while. Now, that is both a challenge for us and a responsibility for us. That means we carry an extra burden, and that means that we’ve got to be, again, more humble about what we can accomplish because we have finite resources. On the other hand, it’s also an opportunity. Despite everything we’ve gone through, I think the world still looks to us for leadership. That means we can still shape the world in ways that not only create more peace and more security worldwide for our kids and our grandkids, but it means that we can still attract talent from all around the world to help create new businesses here. It means that the values we care about in terms of democracy and human rights are ones that we still have the ability to promote and extend beyond our shores. As I said before, I don’t know of anybody who wouldn’t want to trade places with us despite of all the challenges we’ve gone through. I do see a historical parallel in what has happened probably every 20 or 30 years in this country. We get down on ourselves, or the existing circumstances. We see other countries maybe doing better; we’ve got some structural problems. Yet each time we’re able to lift ourselves up out of those difficulties and remake ourselves. In fact, part of what I think makes America strong is we do go through these periods of self-reflection and questioning and political tumult. That sparks the desire to do better than we’ve done.