President Obama blamed a sluggish economy for heavy Democratic electoral losses on Sunday's “60 Minutes.”
“I think, first and foremost, [the election] was a referendum on the economy. And the party in power was held responsible for an economy that is still underperforming and where a lot of folks are still hurting,” said the president.
Giving his first in-depth interview since a disastrous election day for Democrats, a downbeat Obama focused on his role in the electoral defeats.
The president accepted he should be held accountable for the state of the economy.
“So, what you had was the economy continuing to get worse in the first several months of my administration, before any of our economic policies had a chance to be put into place," he said. "Appropriately, I’m held accountable for that.”
He also admitted to being discouraged by the lack of economic growth, saying, “I do get discouraged. I mean, there are times where I thought the economy would have gotten better by now.”
Obama said his administration’s economic policies had avoided another Great Depression, but slow economic growth could remain a long-term problem: “What is a danger is that we stay stuck in a new normal where unemployment rates stay high. … And, as a consequence, we keep on seeing growth that is just too slow to bring back the 8 million jobs that were lost.”
Nevertheless, he remained optimistic about the future: “I am constantly reminded that we have been through worse times than these, and we've always come out on top. And I'm positive that the same thing is going to happen this time.”
Two years after sweeping to victory on the promise of bringing “change” to Washington, Obama acknowledged he has not always succeeded in promoting bipartisan dialogue.
“Part of my promise to the American people when I was elected was to maintain the kind of tone that says we can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think over the course of two years, there have been times where I’ve slipped on that commitment.”
He reinforced his stated desire to work with Republicans in the next Congress, hoping to find compromises on the extension of the Bush tax cuts and infrastructure projects.
“What I’m going to do is I’m going to reach out to Republicans, and I’m going to say, ‘There — what can we work on together?’”
Yet the president said he had been disappointed by a lack of Republican support in the past, particularly in reference to the healthcare bill: “We thought that if we shaped a bill that wasn’t that different from bills that had previously been introduced by Republicans — including a Republican governor in Massachusetts who’s now running for president — that we would be able to find some common ground there. And we just couldn’t.”
He said the healthcare bill had been “costly politically” because it distracted from the administration’s economic policies.
Despite the heavy setbacks on Tuesday, the president said he had resilience to make it through.
“You know, I'll get knocked down a couple of times," he said. "But whatever I'm going through, it's nothing like what families around the country are going through.”