George Stephanopoulos: You had a pretty soft launch to your reelection campaign last week. Your– more from your supports than from you yourself. And I was just wondering if you could take the opportunity. Why should Americans reelect you?
President Obama: I think that we have gone through two and a half of the most challenging years that we’ve seen since the Great Depression. And during that time, not only have we been able to yank this economy out of a very, very deep recession. Not only have we been able to stabilize the financial system and get the economy to grow again. Not only have we now produced over 1.8 million jobs just in the last year. But what we’ve also been able to do is to make the society a little fairer, more competitive. We’ve been able to invest in things like clean energy like never before. We’ve been able to make sure that young people are able to go to college in and make it more affordable. We’ve been able to, you know, make changes like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that allow people who want to serve their country as patriots able to do that regardless of sexual orientation. So, we’ve– in addition to managing big crises, we’ve still been able to move a vision of the country forward that is going to give greater opportunity for more people than ever before. And of course, the job’s not done. We’ve got to make—
President Obama: Unemployment’s still high. That– we still have to put more people back to work. We’ve got to bring the deficit down. Internationally, obviously, we still have enormous challenges, particularly given what’s happened in the Middle East and how we managed that in a way that results in a world that is more democratic and more fair and more just and more respectful of human rights. I think I’m equipped to help us finish the job.
George Stephanopoulos: I wonder how you size up your potential opponents? I mean all of us have been struck by Donald Trump rising to the top of the Republican field by feeding fantasies about your background. What do you make of that?
President Obama: Well you know, I think that over the last two and a half years there’s been an effort to go at me in a way that is politically expedient in the short-term for Republicans. But creates, I think a problem for them when they want to actually run in a general election where most people feel pretty confident the President was born where he says he was, in Hawaii. (LAUGHS) He– he doesn’t have horns. We may disagree with him on some issues and we may wish that you know, the unemployment rate was coming down faster and we want him to know his plan on gas prices. But we’re not really worrying about conspiracy theories or– or birth certificates. And so– I– I think it presents a problem for them. But, look I right now have such a big day job that I am not yet focused on what’s happening on the other side. There’ll be a time where I’m– I’m very focused on it.
George Stephanopoulos: You called–
George Stephanopoulos: –you called out your potential opponents a little bit yesterday saying they embraced the Ryan plan?
President Obama: Well, what is true is a couple of them seem to share that vision of where the country goes. And– and I think the 2012 election is going to be important. I said in my speech yesterday that we are– there– there’s clarity that is emerging about where we go as a country. We are at a– at a fork in the road here. And– I think somebody like Paul Ryan is very sincere. I think he fundamentally believes that government should get out of the way in just about all areas of life. And he genuinely believes that you know, the more successful you or I are we should keep as much of that monetary success as we can without giving much back. And I respect his sincerity on that. I respect the fact that that is the vision that the Republicans have– have presented. What we’re now seeing is the fact that it’s not enough just to say, “I’m going to keep your taxes low and make government small.” We’ve got to make real choices. Do we want to maintain Medicare? If we do, we’ve got to pay for it. Do we believe that we should have the best roads and the best airports and the best ports and the best railways in the world ’cause we’re the greatest country on Earth? If we do, we’ve got to have a way of paying for it. If we believe that it’s unacceptable for our seniors not to be able to go into a nursing home when they need care or, you know, children who are poor not to be able to get a good education. If we believe those things, and I think the vast majority of Americans do, then we’ve got to make sure that we’re paying for it. And I think government has to be smart, it has to be lean, it has to be efficient. But ultimately the vision of society that I have is one in which we are rising together. And we are competing with other countries around the world. And in order to do that we can’t just be thinking about ourselves. And that’s particularly true for folks like you and me, George, who have been unbelievably blessed. You know, we– neither of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths. But we– we were in a society where if you work hard and you’re responsible and sometimes you’re a little bit lucky, you can achieve that American dream.
George Stephanopoulos: You think that’s going away?
President Obama: And I want to make sure that that’s true for everyone.
George Stephanopoulos: And you’re afraid it’s going away right now?
President Obama: I think that the American people are concerned, rightly so, because they’ve just gone through a decade in which their incomes didn’t go up. They just went through a decade in which the top one percent, the top 1/10 of one percent saw their incomes skyrocket. But for the other 99 (CHUCKLES) percent, things were pretty tough. And I’ve got a lot of young people who are now coming out of college who are seeing a tough job market. They see competition from other countries. As I travel around the world and I see a country like Brazil saying, “We’re going to build all these new broadband lines and– and– railway operations,” and you go to South Korea and they’re pouring more and more money into education. And you know, countries that used to look up to America as an example of a modern, well functioning society. And who now seem like they have bigger plans then we do. That’s not the America I want to live in. That’s not the America you or anybody who’s watching wants to raise their kids in. What– the– the thing about America that is great is that we’re bold, we’re tough, we go through some tough times occasionally, but we’re resilient. And eventually we come together to make sure that we are number one. And there’s no reason that this time is any different, but it does mean that we’ve got to make some fundamental choices. And that’s what this election’s going to be about.
George Stephanopoulos: Thanks for your time.
President Obama: It’s great to talk to you.
Transcript from the walk on South Lawn:
George Stephanopoulos: I got to ask you I think in all the times I’ve spoken with you, I heard the first time you and Karl Rove were on exactly the same page. He agrees with you on all the Trump stuff, on all the birther stuff.
President Obama: Right.
George Stephanopoulos: He says it’s really hurting the Republicans.
President Obama: Well, you know, the truth of the matter is that I think that the vast majority of Americans across the country – Democratic or Republican – really want this election to be about growing the economy, getting control of the deficit, preparing the future for our kids. And my suspicion is that anybody who is not addressing those questions –
George Stephanopoulos: Is in trouble?
President Obama: –Is going to be in trouble. I think they may get a quick pop in the news. They may get a lot of attention. But ultimately, the American people understand this is a serious, sober time. They want an optimistic vision. They want one that unifies the country and more important than anything else, they want some answers to how we’re going to get the economy moving.
George Stephanopoulos: I believe that.
President Obama: Yeah.
George Stephanopoulos: Hey, I know you got to go into your office. I got to ask you one other question. All of these issues coming up with air traffic controllers and air travel.
President Obama: Yeah
George Stephanopoulos: We saw the head of the air traffic controllers resigned today. Are you confident now that your administration has this situation under control?
President Obama: We’ve got it under control, but let me say a couple of things. Number one, the individuals who are falling asleep on the job, that’s unacceptable. They’ve been suspended and regardless of whatever reforms need to be made or will be made in terms of how air traffic controllers get rest or what have you. The fact is, when you’re responsible for the lives and safety of people up in the air, you better do your job. So, there’s, there’s an element of individual responsibility that has to be dealt with. What we also have to look at is, you know, air traffic control systems. Do we have enough back up, do we have enough people, are they getting enough rest time? The same way we do with pilots, to make sure that passenger safety is number one. And you know, having the FAA and Ray LaHood, the head of our Transportation Department do a full review of all this to make sure that we can say with 100 percent confidence that we’ve got the best possible air traffic control system. But it starts with individual responsibility. And you know those individuals, they, they’ve let a lot of people down when they fell asleep on the job.
George Stephanopoulos: Well, it’s a gorgeous day to fly today.
President Obama: Ah, it’s gorgeous.
George Stephanopoulos: Thanks a lot for your time.
President Obama: Thank you, thank you.
George Stephanopoulos: Take care. Thank you.
The interview took place at the White House on April 14, 2011. The transcript has been edited for clarity.