A reflective and sometimes contrite Barack Obama expressed some regrets about his first two years as president, but also showed optimism about working with Republican leaders in a 60 Minutes interview taped Thursday and aired Sunday night on CBS.
The president noted that with continuing high levels of unemployment, many Americans aren't seeing benefits from large government expenditures. "Our argument was, 'Well, we had to take these steps to stabilize the economy and things would be a lot worse if we hadn't taken these steps,'" Obama said. "And people say, 'Well, you know what? That's not particularly persuasive to us.'"
In the midst of an economic crisis, Obama said his administration decided, "Let's just get it done, instead of worrying about how we're getting it done."
As a consequence, Obama said he left himself vulnerable to attack: "What I didn't effectively, I think, drive home, because we were in such a rush to get this stuff done, is that we were taking these steps not because of some theory that we wanted to expand government."
When asked by CBS correspondent Steve Kroft to compare his campaign message of change to tea party candidates' promises to change Washington, Obama answered, "Well, you know, that's one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you're campaigning, I think you're liberated to say things without thinking about, 'OK, how am I going to actually practically implement this?'"
A surprised Kroft asked if Obama thought he had been naïve. "No," answered Obama, "I don't think I was naïve. I just think that these things are hard to do."
In expressing regret, Obama also pointed a finger at the Republicans, saying Democrats hoped they could "find some common ground" with the GOP on elements previously proposed by Republicans, but "we just couldn't."
Obama was more confident when talking about the future, saying that the dangers of a double-dip recession "are now much reduced."
The president also discussed areas where there is potential agreement between Republicans and Democrats. He cited infrastructure projects as an area of historic bipartisan cooperation, adding, "I want to have a conversation with them and see if that's still the case."
Speaking about spending cuts, Obama warned that the federal deficit cannot be tackled without changes to entitlement programs, but he said, "when you listen to the tea party or you listen to Republican candidates they promise 'we're not going to touch.'" Asked about working with likely incoming House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Obama could initially summon only faint praise: "They're capable. They have been able to, I think, organize the Republican caucus very effectively in opposition to a lot of the things that we tried to do over the last two years." But then the president added, "I believe that they want the best for the country just like I do. Just like Democrats do. So you know, my assumption is that we're going to be able to work together."