President Obama's expectations for his second term have declined markedly as he begins his sixth year in office this week.
In an interview with 'The New Yorker' magazine, Obama said that no president can do everything he wants. "At the end of the day we're part of a long-running story," he said. "We just try to get our paragraph right." He cited the example of Abraham Lincoln's presidency. "Despite being the greatest president, in my mind, in our history, it took another 150 years before African Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality," Obama said.
He acknowledged that partisan divisions and gridlock in Washington are worse than he anticipated when he promised to begin an era of hope and change, and he conceded that his administration has suffered major setbacks.
"Every morning and every night," Obama said, "I'm taking measure of my actions against the options and possibilities available to me, understanding that there are going to be mistakes that I make and my team makes and that America makes; understanding that there are going to be limits to the good we can do and the bad that we can prevent, and that there's going to be tragedy out there and, by occupying this office, I am part of that tragedy occasionally, but that if I am doing my very best and basing my decisions on the core values and ideals that I was brought up with and that I think are pretty consistent with those of most Americans, that at the end of the day things will be better rather than worse."
In other comments, the president:
– Conceded that the odds are against full success for his Middle East initiatives in Syria and Iran and his seeking an accord between Israel and the Palestinians. But he added: "In all three circumstances, we may be able to push the boulder part way up the hill and maybe stabilize it so it doesn't roll back on us. And all three are connected. I do believe that the region is going through rapid change and inexorable change. Some of it is demographics; some of it is technology; some of it is economics And the old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, what's next?"
– Addressed the issue of race. "There's no doubt that there's some folks who just really dislike me because they don't like the idea of a black president," Obama said. "Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I'm a black president."
– Admitted, as he has before, that he smoked marijuana as a young man and doesn't think it's "more dangerous than alcohol," but has advised his daughters not to smoke it because it's "a waste of time, not very healthy."
– Would stop his son, if he had one, from becoming a professional football player because of the serious injuries involved, but he doesn't have any problem watching pro football. "I would not let my son play pro football," he said, but added: "These guys [who play], they know what they're doing. They know what they're buying into."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.