Oliver Willis Meets Barack Obama

Banter Media Group member and super star blogger Oliver Willis got a chance to meet President Obama yesterday and asked him the following questions (full transcript):

Q Mr. President, you’ve said that you want to work with Republicans after the election, but there’s probably a pretty good chance that they’re not going to advance with you. Is there sort of a breaking point you have of where you try to work with them and they just refuse to budge, which they’ve indicated so far? Is there a breaking point for you just like you’re going to have to go off on your own and find a way around them?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, the — I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to, on the one hand, trying to get cooperation. I don’t give up just because I didn’t get cooperation on this issue; I’ll try the next issue. If the Republicans don’t agree with me on fiscal policy, maybe they’ll agree with me on infrastructure. If they don’t agree with me on infrastructure, I’ll try to see if they agree with me on education.

So I’m just going to keep on trying to see where they want to move the country forward.

In that sense, there’s not a breaking point for me. There are some core principles that I think are important for not just me to stick with but for the country to stick with. So if the Republicans say we need to cut our investments in education, at a time when we know that our success as a nation is largely going to depend on how well trained our workforce is, I’m going to say no. And there are going to be areas where, after working very hard, we just can’t find compromise and I’m going to be standing my ground, then essentially we debate it before the American people.

But I don’t go into the next two years assuming that there’s just going to be gridlock. We’re going to keep on working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible because folks are hurting out there. What they’re looking for is help on jobs, help on keeping their homes, help on sending their kids to college. And if I can find ways for us to work with Republicans to advance those issues, then that’s going to be my priority.

Q Mr. President, you’re often pressured from both the left and right on one issue or another, and then even within the Democratic Party you get pressured from the more conservative, more progressive side of the party. So I’m curious, you sort of govern as a — sort of as a pragmatist, and I’m wondering if you view yourself as a progressive.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I mean, the problem with labels is everybody thinks they mean different things. So I would define myself as a strong progressive in the sense that I believe in that essential American Dream that everybody gets a chance to make it if they’re willing to work hard, that government has a role to play in ensuring opportunity by making sure kids get a decent education and can afford to go to college; that workers are able to train and retrain for the jobs of the future; that we’re building strong infrastructure; that we are using our diplomacy alongside our military to protect our national security; that we believe in the Bill of Rights and we actually act on it, even when it’s inconvenient; that we are promoting the equal treatment of citizens under the law.

Those core beliefs that America prospers not just when a few people do well but when everybody has the chance to do well, when we’ve got a growing middle class, where we — people are able to live out their dreams without the barriers of race or gender or sexual orientation, those are things I deeply believe in.

In that sense, though, I think Abraham Lincoln was a progressive. He was a Republican. He was the first Republican President. And that just gives you a sense of how these categories change so much.

It used to be that the values I just described had a home in the Republican Party as well as the Democratic Party. I think it’s only been in recent years that you can’t find that articulation of some of these values in the Republican Party, and that in fact if you champion them that you’re considered some wild-eyed radical. That’s a shift, and not a good shift, in terms of our public debate.