By John T. Bennett - 02/06/11 11:23 PM EST
President Obama on Sunday dismissed the notion that his administration in recent weeks has pivoted toward the political center to raise his approval ratings as the 2012 campaign nears.
After ushering through Congress measures to throw a lifeline to troubled U.S. corporations, stimulate the economy and dramatically overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, Obama has since cut a deal with congressional Republicans on taxes and called for a freeze on most federal spending.
"I haven't -- I didn't move to... I'm the same guy," he said.
When O’Reilly said the president’s critics call him “a big government liberal,” Obama replied that he inherited a nation on the brink of an economic crisis. That situation required his administration to take a number of “extraordinary steps” to avoid a severe economic depression, Obama said.
"Over the first two years of my presidency, we had a complete
disaster. Right? We had a complete crisis," Obama said. "The financial markets were
breaking down. We were slipping into a Great Depression. And we had
to take a bunch of extraordinary steps in order to make sure that the
economy was growing again, which it is now, growing. Making sure that
the private sector was creating jobs again. It's now doing that."
When confronted with a Wall Street Journal editorial that accused Obama of aiming to redistribute wealth, the president replied, "Well, the Wall Street Journal probably would paint you as a left-wing guy."
Striking a populist tone, Obama echoed his recent State of the Union address and said the administration is now focused on an agenda designed to help the nation “out-educate, out-build” the rest of the world.
Much of his first two years in office featured a rocky relationship with business leaders. Obama has taken steps to mend those wounds of late, and on Sunday said one of his priorities will be to get “businesses thriving.” The president addresses the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday.
While resistant to the idea he is moving toward the center, Obama seemed to strike an everyman image during his pre-pigskin powwow with the Fox News Channel host. The president did not wear a neck tie, and joked the worst thing about his job is wearing a suit jacket on Super Sunday. He adamantly declared “I know football” when pressed by O'Reilly on whether he'd truly be following the game.
The president also defended the healthcare reform law his administration pushed through Congress last year, saying “there’s nothing socialist” about it. That has been a chief contention of many of its critics.
O’Reilly asked the president’s thoughts on recent court rulings declaring the law unconstitutional, but Obama replied he is not interested in fighting again policy battles from the last two years. He also said again that he will listen to Republican ideas on tweaking the reform law.
The duo also traded jabs over the political unrest in Egypt, with Obama never directly answering O’Reilly’s repeated questions about whether the commander in chief opposed a new government there that includes -- or would be controlled by -- the Muslim Brotherhood.
Obama did say, however, that parts of that group’s ideology “are anti-U.S. -- there’s no doubt about it.”
He called the Brotherhood “just one faction” and noted it lacks “majority support” among the Egyptian populace.
When O’Reilly asked bluntly if the Brotherhood is a threat to America, Obama did not directly answer, opting to take his answer in a different direction.
"It's important for us not the say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people," he said.
“Ultimately, the United States can't absolutely dictate” to Egyptian officials a political way ahead, "but what we can do ... is we can say that, ‘The time is now for you to start making a change in that country,’” the president said.
His use of the word “now” reiterated a point driven home late last week by his administration: They expect Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who last week said he will not seek re-election this year amid massive protests calling for his immediate resignation, to waste no time in starting a transition to a new government.
After sparring over policy issues, Obama and O’Reilly talked football.
O’Reilly pressed the president to reveal for which Super Bowl combatant he would be rooting, but Obama said his heart lies only with his hometown Chicago Bears.
“I just want a good game,” Obama said, adding he thinks the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers are “evenly matched teams.” Green Bay is “faster,” but Pittsburgh has “more experience,” Obama said.
And while injured Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will not play a down in Super Bowl XLV, he can forever boast that he was the lone player to receive a presidential mention -- though vague -- during the interview. Obama told O’Reilly that “the Pittsburgh center” being inactive will place the Steelers at a disadvantage.
A noted sports fan, Obama assured his interviewer that while he is hosting a Super Bowl at the White House, he will watch the game.
The president intends to “schmooze” with those on the guest list, including J-Lo and Marc Anthony, before kickoff, but after the Steelers and Packers are under way, “they can sit down and watch the game,” Obama said with a smile.