HISTORY has today launched “The Obama Years – A Nine-Part Oral History” – an extensive compilation of commentary from President Barack Obama and 23 members of his administration. This digital initiative is an in-depth look at President Obama’s presidency featuring exclusive interviews and quotes by the President and his staff. It offers a window of Obama’s presidency from those closest to him. A sample of the archive is included below.
This follows up on the announcement of the premiere of HISTORY’S two-hour special. “The 44th President: In His Own Words,” which airs this Sunday, January 15th at 9PM ET/PT.
To access the archive click here.
A sample of quotes from “A Nine-Part Oral History: The Obama Years” follow below.
PART 1 – The First 100 Days:
John Kerry, Secretary of State: At a very young age he came to office to make monumental decisions of economic importance that were as significant as the decisions that Franklin Roosevelt had to make with respect to the Depression…People…were losing their homes. Banks were folding, huge wealth had just disappeared and he came into that before he was even president…It was the first thing he had to get done…and he did it. There are real parallels between what President Obama did and what Franklin Roosevelt did.
David Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama’s campaigns; senior advisor to the president, 2009-2011: We had a seminal meeting on December 16th of 2008 and it was so impactful that I’ll never forget the date. It was at the transition offices in the Kluczynski building in Chicago. And it was a briefing on where the economy was and where it was going. It was the first time all our economic advisors were together and it was the president elect, the vice president elect, the people who were coming in as senior staff and the economic advisors.
And Larry Summers, who was coming in to head the National Economic Council as chief economic advisor, former treasury secretary, said, “We’re going to lose millions of more jobs, Mr. President.” That was the first time I heard people refer to him that way.
Barack Obama, president of the United States, 2009-2017: It was a snowy day in Chicago. We had not yet been sworn in and Christie Romer indicated in terms that are not appropriate for the History Channel-but could be on HBO-that this was turning into a really big problem.
Cody Keenan, deputy director of speechwriting, 2009-2013; director of speechwriting, 2013-2017: The one person who held us together, the one person who kept us calm was the president. You know, on the campaign, when everything was falling apart, he said, “Go read some FDR and try to channel that into everything you write.” And when we were in the White House he’d say, “Let’s go out and tell the American people that what we’re doing right now is going to help and it’s going to pay off and it’s going to stabilize things, even if it takes a little bit of time.” He was always the one person who kept us calm and focused.
Tim Geithner, U.S. secretary of the treasury, 2009-2013: He had a call in early December with that initial team to talk about the economic agenda…And I spoke first and said, “Well, Mr. President, your main priority and your singular priority and it’s the only one that matters is preventing the second Great Depression. And nothing’s possible if you don’t do that.” And he cut me off and said rather sharply, “You know, I’m not going to be defined just by what I prevented.”
And he went on to say, “We’re going to try to figure out how we craft strategy around a whole set of other challenges. And we can’t put those off indefinitely. And of course, I understand that our capacity to do those things will be determined by our ability to save the economy from a second depression.” I was struck by the ambition and the confidence in that.
PART 2 – 100 Years To Healthcare:
Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, 2009-2017 : Since Teddy Roosevelt, people have been trying to pass healthcare. [That’s] 100 years, and quite frankly…part of it was that they didn’t have the skill and passion of [this] president. Neither the president or I thought it was a perfect act…but [the ACA] established once and for all that in the United States of America, healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
Jon Favreau, director of speechwriting, 2009-2013: The story that makes me proudest of working for Barack Obama was when it looked like that bill couldn’t pass, and Rahm Emanuel went to the president and said, “Look, we don’t have the votes and if you keep pushing this, you’re going to lose in 2012. So I think you need a scaled down version of this bill and just leave it at that. And the president said, “I came here to do something. If I keep going and I lose, so be it.”
PART 3 – Just Like Anyone Else’s Kids:
Jon Favreau, director of speechwriting, 2009-2013: When the shooting in Aurora [Colorado] happened, the president and I were in Florida for an event and he said, “You don’t have kids yet, but there’s a saying, ‘Having kids is like walking around with your heart outside your chest.’ ” I remembered that moment and we used that in his Sandy Hook remarks.
Cody Keenan, deputy director of speechwriting, 2009-2013; director of speechwriting, 2013-2017: I’ve seen the president genuinely angry twice. Once was when he found out healthcare.gov wasn’t working. The other was when background checks failed in the Senate. And I mean angry, like deeply, deeply disturbed by it. I think he used the word disgusted.
PART 4 – A Different Kind of American Foreign Policy:
Barack Obama, president of the United States, 2009-2017: I look at the foreign policy of an FDR but also a Dwight Eisenhower, a Harry Truman or a JFK. but also a George H. W. Bush. What I’ve seen is that where we combine our idealism, our belief in core values and human rights and democracy and human dignity, when we combine that with some hard-headed realism about where we can make a difference and where we can’t, and we don’t overextend ourselves, and we have some realistic notions about how even a great super power like ours can move events in far-off lands. That’s when our foreign policy works best.
Barack Obama, president of the United States, 2009-2017: You can’t fix it all, but it also means you don’t get overextended the way we did in Vietnam or the way we did, unfortunately, in Iraq. It means that we’re not sending young men and women into wars we can’t win. And when we do send them into war, they’ve got a strategy…and they’ve got the resources and public support to sustain the effort.
PART 5 – Bin Laden: Priority Number One:
Bill McRaven, retired admiral, U.S. Navy; architect of the raid at Abbotabad: What was impressive was I knew the president knew that if this went wrong, he would be a one-term president. It was never raised in the Situation Room…because we were trying to decide what was right for America.
And nobody would’ve criticized him for saying no, because the intelligence just wasn’t there to give us a definitive answer. But instead he said, “Yes, let’s go do the raid,” knowing all along that if it went south, he would shoulder the burden.
Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, 2009-2017: It’s an example of the man’s character. He knew he was putting his presidency on the line. If [the raid] had failed…it would have been the end of the administration.
Bill McRaven, retired admiral, U.S. Navy; architect of the raid at Abbotabad: I headed back to the Command Center, got back up on the video conference with the president…[and] I said, “Mr. President, obviously, without DNA, I can’t confirm that it’s bin Laden but it looks like him, everything indicates it’s bin Laden. I said offhandedly, “Oh, by the way, I had a SEAL who was about 6’2″ lie down next to the remains and they were a couple inches longer.” I didn’t really think anything about the comment.
We had lost a helicopter on the target and it was about a $60 million dollar helicopter. So the president said, “Okay, Bill, let me get this straight. We had $60 million for a helicopter and you didn’t have $10 for a tape measure?” And you know, you couldn’t help but smile. It had been a long, tough night and, and even though there was nothing humorous about the situation, it was important to convey the humanity of the moment.
PART 6 – A Sea Change on Climate Change:
Brian Deese, special assistant to the president, 2009-2011; deputy director of the national economic council, 2011-2013, deputy director of the office of management and budget, 2013-2015; senior advisor to the president, 2015-2017: During the campaign, this was an issue that [the president] was focused on and intellectually invested in understanding. He has seen what has happened over the last several years, which is that the Science continues to tell us that…the pace of this problem is significantly outstripping the steps the world is taking to try to address it. I think that has motivated him.
Brian Deese, special assistant to the president, 2009-2011; deputy director of the national economic council, 2011-2013, deputy director of the office of management and budget, 2013-2015; senior advisor to the president, 2015-2017: The way the president thinks about the need for us to tackle [this issue] is different from any other issue I’ve worked with him on. The way he describes it is, “Look, on education reform or job creation, [or] the economy…progress is frustrating. It’s too slow, it’s halting, but you can see that WE’RE MOVING IN a positive direction. With climate change, that’s not true. Things are getting worse and the pace of that is increasing to the degree that we actually [will] face a point in time-hopefully, we have not already gotten there-where…there is such a thing as being too late.
PART 7 – Home In Time For Dinner:
Barack Obama, president of the United States, 2009-2017: The day we passed healthcare, the girls said, “Daddy, how was your day?” I said, “Well, remember that piece of legislation I was working on to make sure everybody has healthcare? We finally got that passed.” And they said, “Well, that’s great, Daddy.” And then immediately, either Malia or Sasha said, “Did you see what happened on Youtube with the cat that was juggling a ball?” And the conversation immediately shifts.
Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president and director of the office of public Engagement and intergovernmental affairs, 2009-2017: Having that family dinner every night, having family vacations together, spending weekends together, early on people were critical of the president because they said he wasn’t social enough, he wasn’t out and about at all of the salon dinners here in Washington. And he said, “You know what? I’m prepared to take that hit because it’s important to me to be a dad and a spouse and to be home at night and have dinners.”
PART 8 – Amazing Grace:
Barack Obama, president of the United States, 2009-2017: I think my legacy as the first African American president falls in a few different categories. Number one, it was a measure of the progress we’ve made as a country. And I always joke with my friends-the first time might have been an accident. When they reelected me with the majority, that indicated that at that point, having seen me-warts and all-during some really difficult times, then [be] willing to put me back in office, show[s] that a majority of the American people really do try to make decisions based on the person’s qualities and merits rather than their race.
David Plouffe, 2008 campaign manager; senior advisor, 2011-2014: The history of that election. I mean, it’s hard to comprehend that essentially, thirty-five years before, people like Barack Obama had a hard time eating at lunch counters and riding on buses and participating in the electoral process.
Barack Obama, president of the United States, 2009-2017: There’s no doubt that among some circles, among some constituencies, the reaction to my policies or proposals might have been in some ways colored by my race. And that cuts both ways. I think African Americans were so proud that they probably were willing to be less critical of me, in some cases, than they might otherwise for a white president. What’s also true is that some of my critics were a little faster to jump on certain issues in certain ways than they might otherwise have been, and that is part of the process of the evolution of the country’s attitudes.
PART 9 – The Long View:
Danielle Gray, associate counsel to the president, 2009-2010; deputy director of the national economic council, 2011-2013; assistant to the president and cabinet secretary, 2013-2014: If you imagine sitting in the Roosevelt Room [the White House conference room], there’s the big table and there’s probably 16 seats around that table. And in large meetings, you had the most senior members of the president’s staff and cabinet sitting around that table with the president at the big chair presiding. But there are also couches in the Roosevelt Room and some individual chairs in the back. A lot of times those are filled with people who are one or two levels below the people around the big table. And the president would often call on the people on the couch and he would often acknowledge it as “the couch.” You know, sometimes he may not even know their names, [but] say, “Back there on the couch…You all have been quiet. What do you think about what we’re doing?”
Cody Keenan, deputy director of speechwriting, 2009-2013; director of speechwriting, 2013-2017: Empathy has always been one of his greatest character traits. I think it’s one of the things that helped get him elected. He knows how important that is in speeches. And he also knows why it’s important to speak uncomfortable truths. Because even if most of society doesn’t like to hear it, there’s at least one part of society that says, “No one’s ever talked to us that way before or No one’s ever made me feel like they care about me before.” In the second inaugural [address], we said “From Seneca Falls, from Selma to Stonewall.” To women, to African Americans and to gays. I think it was the first time anyone had ever mentioned LGBT Americans in an inaugural address. He knows what those things mean.
Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, 2009-2017: He has more integrity than anybody I work with. And like I said during the campaign: “Osama Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”