Obama: A Lot Keeps Me Up at Night

In Exclusive Interview, Obama Tells ABC's Barbara Walters He Worries For the Country in Next 60 Days


Nov. 26, 2008—

Facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, President-elect Barack Obama says he is kept awake at night worrying about what will happen to the country over the next 60 days while a "lame duck" is in charge.

Obama talked about his preparation to take office on Jan. 20 in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters.

President Bush will remain in the Oval Office until Obama assumes power on Jan. 20.

Barack Obama: The Barbara Walters Interview -- Click Here to Watch the Full Special

When asked what was his "biggest fear," Obama said "there are a lot of things that keep me up at night."

"One of the concerns I have is that the economy is so weakened that the next 60 days are going to be difficult because we've got a president who, even though he may mean well, is now sort of in lame-duck status [and] Congress isn't in [session]."

"And I don't have the reins of power," Obama added.

Obama said that in the meantime he was working to assemble a team of economic advisors who would be ready to work come Inauguration Day.

The President-elect said he and his team would carefully review the way the Bush administration distributes bailout funds to Wall Street banks seeking emergency assistance.

"I'm not president yet, so I don't know yet how much more money is going to be spent. I'm going to scrutinize very carefully how that money is spent. If the Bush administration chooses to draw down that money, then I'm going to have something to say about whether it's doing it wisely," he told Walters.

Obama, who won in a landslide victory by promising change, tried to dampen expectations of what's going to happen when he takes charge on Jan. 20.

"I am not a miracle worker," he told Walters.

Obama said the executives at those companies who have taken federal loans should act responsibly with the tax payers' money, chiding Wall Street executives who sought multimillion dollar bonuses and the leaders of Detroit's Big Three automakers who last week flew to Washington aboard private jets to ask Congress for a bailout.

He called the automaker executives "tone deaf" to the concerns of the American people.

Weeks away from his inauguration, Obama stressed to Walters the importance of personal, corporate and civic accountability in light of the cratering economy and said his presidency would be a return to "the ethic of responsibility."

Obama said "captains of industry" on Wall Street and in Detroit who took advantage of corporate perks while their companies benefited from government loans paid for with taxpayers' money, don't have "any perspective on what's happening to ordinary Americans."

Executives placed in a position of authority have "got responsibilities to your workers. You've got a responsibility to your community; to your share holders. There's got to be a point where you say, 'I have enough, and now I'm in this position of responsibility. Let me make sure that I'm doing right by people and acting in a way that is responsible,'" Obama said.

Obama Cites 'Deep Religious Faith'

Executives at many of Wall Street's top firms, including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, have, in recent days, laid off scores of workers and announced they would forgo Christmas bonuses, a policy the incoming president indicated he wanted to see more of.

Asked by Walters if bank executives should forgo their bonuses, Obama said, "I think they should."

"That's an example of taking responsibility. I think that if you are already worth tens of millions of dollars, and you are having to lay off workers, the least you can do is say, 'I'm willing to make some sacrifice as well, because I recognize that there are people who are a lot less well off, who are going through some pretty tough times,'" the president-elect added.

In a lengthy interview that touched on a broad range of topics from the economy and troop deployments in Afghanistan, to Thanksgiving plans with his family, Obama talked about many of the personal adjustment he, his wife Michelle, and their two children will make when they move into the White House on Jan. 20.

Obama, who will become the nation's first black president, shrugged off any suggestion that his history making role put him in any added danger.

His historic victory has prompted online streams of racial hatred and several arrests because of threats to his safety.

Obama told Walters that he does not allow a sense of menace to rattle him and that he simply ignores it.

"I don't think about it partly because I've got this pretty terrific crew of Secret Service guys that follow me everywhere I go," he said.

"But also because, you know, I have a deep religious faith, and a faith in people that, you know, carries me through the day. And my job is just to make sure I'm doing my job, and if I do I can't worry about that kind of stuff," he told Walters.

Even before the presidential campaign began, Obama's wife Michelle had openly worried about the added danger that her husband's candidacy might draw because of his race. She fretted on "60 Minutes" earlier this year that "as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station."

Obama won't be going to a gas station for at least the next four years, but all presidents face an inherent danger because of their position and their policies.

Obama Trying to Keep His BlackBerry

The president-elect said that his children won't get the full effect of being the nation's first kids. He said Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, will know they are special to their parents, "But they're not special, you know in terms of having to do their homework or having to do chores."

The future first lady Michelle Obama added, "That was the first thing I said to some of the [White House] staff when I did my visit. Because of course, the girls, they're so good. I said, 'You know, we're going to have to set up some boundaries. Because they're going to need to be able to make their beds" and clean their own rooms.

Michelle Obama added with a laugh, "Don't make their beds. Make mine."

Barbara Walters told "Good Morning America" that both Barack and Michelle Obama agreed that it is Michelle who "gets the last word," with the president-elect philosophizing, "When Momma's happy, everybody is happy."

Obama said he was concerned that the isolated life of a president would limit his access to information from outside the bubble of the White House.

Throughout the campaign, Obama was often seen communicating to staff members via his BlackBerry, a convenience the president-elect may legally have to forgo, and one which he indicated he was negotiating to keep.

For national security purposes, a president is limited in his electronic correspondences for fear of hacking. Additionally, presidential communications are strictly monitored and archived for historical purposes.

"One of the things that I'm going to have to work through is how to break through the isolation -- the bubble that exists around the president. I'm in the process of negotiating with the Secret Service, with lawyers, with White House staff ... to figure out how can I get information from outside of the 10 or 12 people who surround my office in the White House," he said.

Obama said that, on the campaign trail, he had a chance to interact with hundreds of Americans, to hear their stories and connect with them personally. He said the often hermetic environs of the White House sometimes lead presidents to lose touch with their constituents.

"One of the worst things I think that could happen to a president is losing touch with what people are going through day to day ... " he said. "I want to make sure that I keep my finger on the pulse of the struggles that people are going through every day."