As person of the year, President Obama was asked about the film, Lincoln:
I wanted to ask you, Mr. President, about the film Lincoln. We know that you gathered a group to see it here. And for me watching that movie, it was as if I had spent three hours with Lincoln. And I wondered how— it was a very emotional experience. And I wondered how you felt watching that movie. What was it like for you to spend that time with Lincoln?
Well, first of all, Daniel Day-Lewis was sitting next to me, or right behind me. (Laughter.) And so, even after the movie, I felt like I was still hanging out with Lincoln. He was masterful in that role. I think it’s well publicized that Lincoln is my favorite President, and so to see an intimate depiction of him in his work and the challenges that faced him even in a relatively compressed period of time was incredibly powerful.
I think it’s generally a good idea for any President not to compare himself to Lincoln. (Laughter.) And so the magnitude of his challenges and the magnitude of his gifts are of a different scope and scale of any subsequent President.
I do think that there are lessons to be drawn. Part of what Lincoln teaches us is that to pursue the highest ideals and a deeply moral cause requires you also engage and get your hands dirty. And there are trade-offs and there are compromises. And what made him such a remarkable individual, as well as a remarkable President, was his capacity to balance the idea that there are some eternal truths with the fact that we live in the here and now, and the here and now is messy and difficult. And anything we do is going to be somewhat imperfect. And so what we try to do is just tack in the right direction.
And you do understand that as President of the United States, the amount of power you have is overstated in some ways, but what you do have the capacity to do is to set a direction. And you recognize you’re not going to arrive with — you’ll never arrive at that promised land, and whatever seeds you plant now may bear fruit many years later.
So being able to project across a very long timeline while still being focused on the immediate tug and pull of politics I think is a useful lesson, and an accurate portrayal of how I think about my work day to day.