On the other hand, I think maybe people's expectations were that somehow we were going to be able to solve this in a year. And we knew pretty soon after I took office that this was going to last for a while -- because, historically, when you have recessions that arise out of financial crises, they last a lot longer than the usual business cycle recessions.
Beyond that, I also think that over the first two years I was so focused on policy and getting the policy right, that sometimes I forgot part of my job is explaining to the American people why we're doing this policy and where we're going. And so I think a lot of people started trying to figure out, well, how do all these pieces fit together. The auto industry has been saved, and that was a good thing. Well, that saved a million jobs, but people weren't sure how did that relate to our housing strategy, or how did that relate to health care. And so I think that was something that I could have done better.
That's just two items on what I'm sure are a very long list -- (laughter) -- of things that I could do better. But having said that, the basic thrust of my first two-and-a-half years have been entirely consistent with what I said I was going to do during the campaign -- because what I promised was that not only were we going to deal with the immediate crisis, I said we are going to start laying the foundation for us to solve some of these long-term problems.
So when we changed, for example, the student loan program to take billions of dollars that were going to the banks, as middlemen in the student loan program, and redirected them so that students -- millions more students would benefit from things like Pell grants, that was in pursuit of this larger goal that we have to once again be the nation that has the highest percentage of college graduates and that we have the best-skilled workforce, because that's what it's going to take to win the future.
When we initiated health care reform, it was based on a long-term assessment that if we don't get control of our health care costs and stop sending people to the emergency room for very expensive care, but instead make sure they've got adequate coverage so that they are getting regular checkups and they are avoiding preventable diseases like diabetes -- that unless we do that, we're going to go broke just on health care spending.
When we made the biggest investment in clean energy in our history over the last two-and-a-half years, it's because of my belief that we have to free ourselves from the lock-grip that oil has on our economic well-being and our security.
And so I'm going to keep on pushing for those things that position us to be the most competitive, the most productive nation on Earth in the 21st century. And I think on that front we have been very successful. (Applause.)
All right. Let me see. This gentleman right here in the blue shirt.
Q Mr. President, good to meet you. My name is Steve. I'm a doctoral student here.
THE PRESIDENT: What are you studying?
Q Political rhetoric.
THE PRESIDENT: Uh-oh. (Laughter.) How am I doing so far? Q Pretty good. Pretty good.
THE PRESIDENT: I feel like I'm getting graded up there. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
Q All right. Much sacrifice is being asked of our generation. So when are our economic perspectives going to be addressed? For example, when is the war on drugs and society going to be abandoned and replaced by a more sophisticated and cost-effective program of rehabilitation such as the one in Portugal? (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I have stated repeatedly, and it's actually reflected in our most recent statement by our Office of Drug Policy, that we need to have an approach that emphasizes prevention, treatment, a public health model for reducing drug use in our country. We've got to put more resources into that. We can't simply focus on interdiction because, frankly, no matter how good of a job we're doing, when it comes to an interdiction approach, if there is high demand in this country for drugs, we are going to continue to see not only drug use but also the violence associated with the drug trade.
This has obviously become extremely severe for Mexico, and we are working now with the Mexican government, in part to help them deal with these transnational drug dealers, but one of the things that I've said to President Calderón is we understand that we have an obligation here in this country to reduce demand and the only way that you reduce demand is through treatment and prevention.
And there are a lot of communities around the country where if you are -- if you have a serious drug problem and you decide, I'm going to kick the habit, and you seek out treatment -- assuming you're not wealthy, because it may not be covered even if you have health insurance -- but particularly if you're poor, you may have a 90-day wait before you can even get into a program. Well, obviously if you're trying to kick a habit, waiting 90 days to get help is a problem.