He told "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer that cable news and blogs, operating on a 24/7 news cycle, "focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can't get enough of the conflict - it's catnip to the media right now."
Given this environment, the president bemoaned, "it is more difficult for us to solve the problems" Congress and his administration face.
He argued that protest is an intrinsic part of the democratic debate - "that's not new."
More from "Face the Nation" (9/20/09):
Obama: No Higher Taxes With Health Reform
No Answer on More Troops in Afghanistan
Obama: Moscow Move 'Bonus' of Missile Plan
Full Transcript: Obama on 'Face the Nation'
"Every president who has tried to bring about big changes, I think, elicits the most passionate responses," he said, giving as examples Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan
He insisted that he has no intention of making government bigger and more powerful - a central charge of his opponents.
"[I] think what's driving passions right now is that health care has become a proxy for a broader set of issues about how much government should be involved in our economy."
Finally, President Obama said, "even though we're having a passionate disagreement here, we can be civil to each other."
Later in the interview, pre-taped Friday at the White House, the President implied that he would let Attorney General Eric Holder press on with his investigations of CIA interrogations conducted after September 11, 2001, even after seven former CIA directors sent him a letter asking him to reverse the plan.
"I don't want witch hunts taking place," he said, but "he's got to make judgement[s] in terms of what has occurred. My understanding is it's not a criminal investigation at this point."