“So, Mr President,” I say, “Do you really think America has what it takes to get out of this deep hole?” He shifts his chair closer to me. “I’ll give you an honest answer. I’m absolutely confident we have what it takes. But I’m more worried now than I have been for many many years … because we have both a short-term crisis of horrible unemployment and long-term issues about education, healthcare and tilting the economy a little more to production. But here’s what I know … People have been betting against America for 200 years – it’s a maddening country – and they all wound up losing money. They said Washington was a mediocre surveyor with a set of false teeth; on the way to his inauguration an Illinois newspaper said that Abraham Lincoln was a baboon, he’ll ruin the country … Khrushchev said he’d bury us, the Japanese in the 1980s were going to bury us too.”
But, and something like a sigh escapes the optimist – “this is a different sort of challenge. It’s short-term and long-term, it’s complicated and we need a narrative that allows people to buy into America. The best I can do is tell you that what works in the modern world is different from what works in politics. When I’m asked what’s the one thing I’m proudest of, it was moving a hundred times as many people from poverty into the middle class as in the previous 12 years, because that was clearly the product of economic policy. That’s what this country is all about; the idea that if you work hard and you’re an honourable person you get a chance to live your dream and give your children a chance to chase it.”
God, I wish he was still President.