STEVE KROFT: The mood of the country, the mood in general, the political mood's different than it was when we talked two years ago, right after the presidential election.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely.
KROFT: And I think that you made some allusions during that interview that it was gonna be difficult. And it's always a challenge to kind of read the tea leaves of midterm elections, because there's lots of different things going on. But the Republicans have said that this was a referendum on you and the Democratic Party. Do you agree with that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think, first and foremost, it 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. I mean, we've got 9.6 percent unemployment. We've got higher than that underemployment. A lot of folks who would like to be working full time can't work full time. Families are struggling paying the bills. People have seen their home values decline all across the country. In some cases, so that they're under water. Their house is worth less than the cost of their mortgage.
And so, people I think expect that we would have made more progress than we have on the economic front. And I think that was uppermost on people's minds.
I do think that what was also true was that there are a lot of folks in this country who voted for me, hoping that we were gonna be able to get Washington to work again. And what they've seen over the last two years is a lot of partisan bickering. A lot of the same chronic problems that we've seen in Washington over the last several decades now. And that frustrated them. And I think they rightly said, "Okay, President Obama, you said you were gonna do something about this. We haven't seen enough change in Washington." And so in both those instances, I think people rightly said, "You're the President, you committed and promised that we would see changes. We haven't seen as many changes as we'd like. And we're gonna hold you accountable for it."
Obama Interview Transcript, Part 1
Obama Interview Transcript, Part 2
Two days after his party's defeat in the midterm elections, President Obama granted only one interview: with "60 Minutes" correspondent Steve Kroft. Here is their entire conversation from start to finish.
KROFT: At your news conference yesterday, you seemed unwilling to accept the idea that this was a rejection in any way of your agenda. And your policies. Is this a defeat, a reflection on your leadership?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I think that if you ask people individually, "Does it make sense that President Obama gave 95 percent of working families a tax cut? Does it make sense that we make sure children with preexisting conditions can still get health insurance? Do we need to rebuild our roads and our bridges and put people back to work so that we have a 21st Century infrastructure? Was it smart for us to take money that were going to banks in the forms of unwarranted subsidies and use that to increase student loans for millions of young people across the country?"
If you tick off that list, then people will say, "These are all good ideas." But I think that what happened over the course of two years was that we had to take a series of big, emergency steps quickly. And most of them in the first six months of my administration. Each of them had a big price tag. You got intervention in the banks. You've got the auto bailout. You've got a stimulus package. Each one with a lot of zeroes behind it. And people looked at that and they said, "Boy, this feels as if there's a huge expansion of government." And . . .
KROFT: Well, it was a huge expansion of government.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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. It was because we had an emergency situation and we wanted to make sure the economy didn't go off a cliff. The last thing I would have liked to do as an incoming President is figure out how to save GM and Chrysler from bankruptcy. That wasn't on my list of to-dos when I was running for office.
But necessity created circumstances in which I think the Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that's not something that the American people want. I mean, you know, particularly independents in this country. But I think most Democrats and Republicans, they want a government that works, but they want one that's lean. One that's not wasting money. One that is looking after their interests, but isn't engaged in a whole bunch of giveaways.
And I think the Republicans were successful in creating a picture of the Obama Administration as one that was contrary to those commonsense, Main Street values about the size of government. And so, it I think it is fair to say that, you know, the American people don't want to see some massive expansion of government. And I think the good thing is that having gotten through this emergency, I think what people will see over the next two years is probably a better reflection of the kinds of long term priorities that I want to set for the country.