Speed Reads

interviews

Obama says as president, he has to focus on what makes the 'biggest, quickest impact'

In a wide-ranging interview with The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, President Obama discussed everything from closing the inequality gap to civil rights to not believing his own hype.

Coates spoke with Obama several times in October, and their second interview was published Wednesday. The president revealed that one of the things he's learned is that "as powerful as this office is, you have limited bandwidth. And the time goes by really quickly, and you're constantly making choices, and there are pressures on you from all different directions — pressures on your attention, not just pressures from different constituencies." The focus has to be on where you can have the "biggest, quickest impact," he said, and because of that, Obama always tells his staff, "'Better is good.' I'll take better every time, because better is hard. Better may not be as good as the best, but better is surprisingly hard to obtain."

Coates also asked Obama how he reconciles his admiration for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the fact that as commander in chief, he has had to authorize killing. "When you take on the position of president, you are committing yourself to, first and foremost, protecting the American people," Obama said. "You are accepting an institutional role that requires you to make hard decisions and hard choices, and as a consequence you have to take your moral sense and not put it aside, but rather take that moral sense and apply it to the particulars of a job that is going to test those ethical and moral precepts differently than if you're a professor, or a business person, or a dad. And if I were not comfortable with the judicious use of our military to protect the American people, then I shouldn't have run for president."

Read the entire interview, featuring Obama's thoughts on the attention he received in 2008 and words of advice he's passed along to daughters Malia and Sasha, at The Atlantic.