WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama on Sunday hit back at critics who say he is trying to redistribute wealth, and challenged his Republican opponents to deal with growing income inequality.
In an interview with the CBS News program "60 Minutes," Obama countered rivals who claimed he is moving toward socialist-style policies and fomenting class warfare.
"The problem is, is that our politics has gotten to the point, where we can't have an honest conversation about the greatest income inequality since the 1920s," Obama said.
"And we can't have an honest conversation about the irresponsibility that resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, without somebody saying that somehow we're being divisive. No, we're being honest about what happened and we've got to be honest about how we move forward."
Obama said he has tried working with Republicans on taxes and the deficit but that the opposition party has failed to budge in its stand on refusing to raise taxes.
"And what I said to them was a balanced approach means exactly what it says. It means it's balanced," he said. "What we haven't seen is any serious movement on the other side."
Obama acknowledged that Americans should not feel satisfied with the current state of the US economy.
"We've gone through an incredibly difficult time in this country. And I would be surprised if the American people felt satisfied right now," the president said
"They shouldn't feel satisfied. We've got a lot more work to do in order to get this country and the economy moving in a way that benefits everybody, as opposed to just a few."
Still, he said he can point to a number of accomplishments in his bid for re-election: "Not only saving this country from a Great Depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we're going to start lowering health care costs and you're never going to go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick."
He said he will point to the reform of the financial system, "so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts," ending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which banned gays serving openly in the military and "decimating Al-Qaeda, including (Osama) bin Laden being taken off the field."
But he acknowledged that on the economy, "we've got a lot more work to do."
Although the United States exited the recession under Obama's leadership, the American economy has been plagued by high unemployment since, and despite falling last month, joblessness remains stubbornly high at 8.6 percent.
"Keep in mind that when I came into office eight million jobs were gone," Obama said.
"And things were cratering. Six months later, the economy was growing again. And we've now had nine consecutive quarters, two and a half years, in which the economy's grown... But it hasn't made up for the hole that was created in those six, nine, 12 months before my economic policies took effect."
The Democratic president, who faces re-election next November 6, offered some offhand comments about two potential Republican nominees, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Obama said Gingrich is "somebody who's been around a long time, and is good on TV, is good in debates."
Romney, who touts himself as a Washington outsider, "has shown himself to be somebody who's good at politics, as well. He's had a lot of practice at it," Obama said.
But he maintained that "it doesn't really matter who the nominee is going to be. The core philosophy that they're expressing is the same. And the contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and... where they say they want to take the country is going to be stark. And the American people are going to have a good choice and it's going to be a good debate."
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