In the beginning, an awful lot of people were inspired by Barack Obama's vision for America. Since then, too many have become discouraged that he hasn't gotten us there yet. I would suggest that they missed this part of his victory speech on election night 2008.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.First of all, he was clear that it was never "Yes He Can," it was always "Yes We Can." But secondly, there was that part about "block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand." He was talking about the step-by-step strategies that would be necessary to enact our vision.
There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as President, and we know that government can't solve every problem. But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And above all, I will ask you join in the work of remaking this nation the only way it's been done in America for two-hundred and twenty-one years – block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.
What began twenty-one months ago in the depths of winter must not end on this autumn night. This victory alone is not the change we seek – it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.
President Obama explained his own process of breaking goals down into strategies when he addressed the young people at his town hall meeting on the My Brother's Keeper initiative.
And the truth is I still set goals every day. Every morning, I’ve got a checklist of here are the things that I need to get done. And it starts off with big goals -- so let’s just take My Brother’s Keeper. My goals is to make sure that every young person in America, if they’re putting in the effort, they can succeed, and they’ve got ladders of opportunity to take them where they want to go regardless of what their talents or interests are. So that’s a big goal. That’s a 40,000-foot goal.I would suggest that much of the disappointment we're seeing today comes from those who have failed to make the connection between what is on President Obama's "to-do list" today with that grand vision. You've probably heard the old adage about the difficulty of turning the poetry of campaigning into the prose of governing. That's exactly the challenge I'm talking about. A single step viewed in isolation often bears very little resemblance to the vision at the end of the journey - but that's where it has to start.
But if I just stay there, I’m not going to get it done, right? So then I’ve got to break it down into, well, what are the component parts of that? Well, number one, I’ve got to make sure the school system works well. So then I’m going to talk to my Secretary of Education and I’m going to say, what are our goals this year in terms of improving whether it’s early childhood education, or making sure that young people can read at grade level by the time they’re in 3rd grade, or what have you.
But then it’s also there’s a criminal justice component to it, because I’m trying to figure out how do we get more young men into college and fewer of them into jail, which means that I’ve then got to talk to the Attorney General, Eric Holder, and I’ve got to say, what are our goals for trying to revamp how we think about the interaction between law enforcement and young men of color.
So I’ll break it down into those parts. But that’s still not at the best level, because now I’ve got to say, what’s our specific plan to do it and what am I going to be doing this week, what am I going to be doing this month, and what am I going to be doing this year to get that done. And so you keep on breaking it down from the very general down to the specific. And ideally, what I’m producing then is every day when I wake up I’ve got a checklist of here are the specific things I’m going to do today to achieve my goal.
Because President Obama's vision is about building rather than destroying, it is a slower and more deliberative process. He is also secure enough in himself to be able to incorporate a vision that will last beyond his own tenure in the White House.
“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”We should never mistake a paragraph with the entire story.