Gibson Empathizes with Obama: 'Holy God, What a Weight that Is on Your Shoulders'

In his swan song interview with President Barack Obama, which consumed more than ten minutes of World News, ABC's Charles Gibson couldn't have provided a friendlier or more empathetic platform to Obama on the “weight” of sending troops to war and how “devilishly difficult” it's become to pass a health care plan because of a few rogue Senators. Gibson, set to retire Friday, teased his last Wednesday newscast:
Welcome to World News. Tonight, we broadcast from the White House. And in the headlines, one on one. Our conversation with the President in which he says he lost sleep over his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, and makes a dire warning about health care.
That “dire warning,” which Gibson did not challenge in the interview: “If we don't pass it, here's the guarantee: the federal government will go bankrupt.”

Gibson began with Afghanistan, recalling how commanders don't “commit kids to war,” they just follow the President's orders, “and I thought, 'Holy God, what a weight that is on your shoulders.'” After Obama ruminated at length on the “gravity” of the “tough” analysis process he went through, Gibson wondered about the inner Obama: “How did you change from the beginning of that analysis and process that you went through to the end, inside you?”

Moving to health care, Gibson fretted the emerging bill doesn't have enough government intrusion: “If there's no government insurance program, if we're not even going to expand Medicare to keep insurance companies competitive, how does the cost curve bend?” He then sympathized with what Obama is up against with Joe Lieberman and a few other Senators: “Then there's the problem of getting the darn thing passed, which is proving to be devilishly difficult.” And lamented: “Do you feel like they're holding you hostage on this?”

Audio: MP3 clip compilation of Gibson's questions which matches the video.

Gibson opened, from inside the White House:
Good evening. We report from the cabinet room in the West Wing of the White House, and normally these days, around this table would be Obama, Clinton, Gates, Holder, Sebelius and the rest of the cabinet. The Oval Office is right nearby. Earlier today, I interviewed the President here, talking about the weight of a decision to send young people to war, knowing some will not return alive. And, about the difficulties of trying to corral 60 Senate votes for a health care bill.
The questions from Gibson aired on the Wednesday, December 16 World News, all followed by lengthy responses from Obama:
– Mr. President, a year ago today, you were in Chicago. You knew you were going to be President, but you weren't. What didn't you anticipate? What did you underestimate? What didn't you know?

– You surprised me a little, because I think -- and I've heard other Presidents say -- the thing that you can't anticipate is the weight of the job when it comes to you, particularly when it comes to committing young men and women to war.

– It's an enormous responsibility. And before Gulf War I, I went to Kuwait, and I talked to the commanders -- Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force -- and I asked them, what does it feel like to commit kids to war? And they all said, “We don't. The President does. It's his job. We just carry out his order.” And I thought, “Holy God, what a weight that is on your shoulders.”

– As you went through that assessment in recent weeks, is there a calculus in your mind? Do you have to go through it? What is this worth in terms of human life? Is this goal worth 500 lives, a thousand, 1,500 lives? Does that go through your head?

– How did you change from the beginning of that analysis and process that you went through to the end, inside you?

– Let me turn to health care. When we talked in the White House and throughout the early stages of health care reform discussion, you talked about the absolute need to bend the cost curve of health care, that we had to bring costs into line or we'd break the country. If there's no government insurance program, if we're not even going to expand Medicare to keep insurance companies competitive, how does the cost curve bend?

– And then there's the problem of getting the darn thing passed, which is proving to be devilishly difficult. You thought you had a compromise last week that was going to expand Medicare to younger people, and Senator Lieberman says, “Well, I'm not sure I want that,” and then all of a sudden, we hear it's out of the -- out of the bill. Do you feel as if individual Senators are holding you hostage?

– Which leaves you needing all 58 Democrats and two independents...Every one of them...Every single one....Anyone can say to you, “If I back off, you have to do what I need you to do.”...But do you feel like they're holding you hostage on this?

– But when you need every vote like this, and when Senators can do this to you -- and those are my words, not yours -- a lot of people worry that what you're going to wind up with is hash. There's even some Democrats saying now we've got a bill that's so compromised that it's not worth signing.

ABCNews.com summary of the interview, with video.

ABCNews.com's posted transcript (differs in parts from above since I corrected some errors in it)
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center