"The people who dislike you don't know you. The folks who hate you, they don't know you," Mr. Obama said Sunday in an interview broadcast during Fox's pre-game coverage of the Super Bowl. "What they hate is whatever funhouse mirror image of you that's out there. They don't know you."
Asked by Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly whether his critics annoyed him, President Obama said: "By the time you get here, you have to have had a pretty thick skin. If you didn't, then you probably wouldn't have gotten here."
The 14-minute, live interview sought President Obama's views on a range of timely matters, including the unrest in Egypt and the ultimate fate of the new health care law. O'Reilly also probed Mr. Obama on lighter topics, including which team would win the NFL championship game, and the worst part of his job.
CBS News chief White House correspondent Bill Plante said the president seemed to enjoy sparring with O'Reilly, who challenged him to respond to a Wall Street Journal op-ed which called him "a determined man of the left."
"Do you deny the assessment? Do you deny that you are a man who wants to redistribute wealth?" asked O'Reilly.
"Absolutely," he said. "I didn't raise taxes once. I lowered taxes over the last two years."
"The Wall Street Journal would probably paint YOU as a left-wing guy!" the president joked.
President Obama lamented anew about "being in the bubble." He is followed practically everywhere by staff, Secret Service agents and the media.
"It's very hard to escape," said Mr. Obama, seated in the Blue Room of the White House. "Every move you make. And over time, you know, what happens is that you feel like you're not able to just have a spontaneous conversation with folks. And that's a loss. That's a big loss."
A liberal, Mr. Obama denied that he's begun a shift to the political middle following the "shellacking" Democrats suffered in the November elections - the party lost control of the House and has a slimmer majority in the Senate - and as he lays the groundwork for an expected campaign for re-election in 2012.
"I'm the same guy," President Obama said. "And my practical focus, my common-sense focus is how do we out-innovate, out-educate, out-build and out-compete the rest of the world? How do we create jobs here in the United States of America? How do we make sure that businesses are thriving, but how do we also make sure ordinary Americans can live out the American dream, because right now they don't feel like they are?"
O'Reilly asked the president three times whether the job had changed him before he acknowledged that it had. Mr. Obama said his hair is grayer and that "I'm basically the same guy as when I came in" to office. O'Reilly then said that some of Obama's friends have said the president is not as light or spontaneous as he once was, to which Mr. Obama agreed.
"I would say that's probably true. There's no doubt that the weight of this office has an impact," he said.
Asked what surprised him after he took office, Mr. Obama said it's that he's never asked to solve an easy problem.
"I think that the thing you understand intellectually but that you don't understand in your gut until you're in the job, is that every decision that comes to my desk is something that nobody else has been able to solve," he said. "The easy stuff gets solved somewhere by somebody else. By the time it gets to me, you don't have easy answers."
President Obama said he has to use his best judgment knowing that "you don't have perfect information and you know that you're not going to have a perfect solution."
Asked about the crisis in Egypt, the president refused to say whether or when Egypt's President Mubarak should step down, saying only that Mubarak knows what he's going to do.
"But here is what we know: Egypt is not going to go back to what it was," he told O'Reilly.
He also played down prospects that the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned political and religious group in Egypt with strains of anti-U.S. ideology, would take a major role in any new government.
"They are well organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S.," he said. "There's no doubt about it. But here's the thing we have to understand. There are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt."
On health care, President Obama said a federal judge in Florida who recently struck down the entire law "was wrong." That judge said the requirement that nearly everyone have health insurance is unconstitutional. A different judge who reached the same conclusion in a separate case voided only that requirement. Judges in two other cases upheld the law.
It's generally accepted that the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word. Mr. Obama gave an indirect answer to O'Reilly's question about whether he's prepared for the law to "go down." President Obama said only that he doesn't want to spend the next two years "refighting the battles of the last two years."
The Fox News Channel host, a frequent Obama critic who called him "Robin Hood Obama" in a September 2008 interview during the presidential campaign, opened Sunday's meeting by thanking Mr. Obama and his administration for assisting two Fox reporters who'd gotten "roughed up" in Cairo.
"Those guys could have died and I just want everybody to know that the State Department really saved them," O'Reilly said.
The Obama administration has had a contentious relationship with Fox, with some officials accusing it of operating like a wing of the Republican Party.
But O'Reilly was not quite as combative Sunday.
"I enjoy talking to you," O'Reilly said in closing. "I disagree with you sometimes. I hope you think I'm fair to you. I try to be, but I wish you well in the next two years."
As for the game, Mr. Obama declined to choose between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers.
"Here's the thing, once my (Chicago) Bears lost, I don't pick sides," he said. (Green Bay defeated the Bears to get to the Super Bowl.)
But he and his wife, Michelle, were throwing a party and Mr. Obama, an avid basketball player, said he'd be watching.
"I know football and I will watch the game. What happens is I schmooze with everybody when they come, give them a little bit of time. But once the game starts they can just sit down and watch the game. I'll be sitting there with them but I don't want them coming up and chitting and chatting."
About 100 people were expected, including celebrities Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, the husband-and-wife part-owners of the Miami Dolphins. Elected officials from Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were also invited, including Pennsylvania Sens. Robert Casey, a Democrat, and Pat Toomey, a Republican, and Wisconsin Rep. Reid Ribble, a Republican who represents Green Bay.
The menu featured beer from each state: Hinterland Pale Ale and Amber Ale from Wisconsin, and Yuengling Lager and Light, brewed in Pennsylvania, along with plenty of calorie-laden football fare: bratwurst, kielbasa, cheeseburgers, deep-dish pizza, Buffalo wings, potato salad, chips and dips, salad and ice cream, according to the White House.