Obama concedes he hasn’t brought country together

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says he has not succeeded in bringing the country together, acknowledging an atmosphere of divisiveness that has washed away the lofty national feeling surrounding his inauguration a year ago.

“That’s what’s been lost this year … that whole sense of changing how Washington works,” Obama said in an interview with People magazine.

The president said his second-year agenda will be refocused on uniting the country around common values, “whether we’re Democrats or Republicans.”

“We all want work that’s satisfying, pays the bills and gives children a better future and security,” Obama said in the interview, which the magazine conducted with the president and his wife, Michelle Obama, at the White House last Friday.

The president’s comments came as Republican leaders rallied against the core items of his agenda, from his economic stimulus plan to health care. The mood of the country has remained in a sustained slump, too, as double-digit unemployment followed a campaign built upon “hope” and “change.”

Obama said people have “every right to feel deflated, because the economy was far worse than any of us expected.” But he insisted that his government’s economic steps in 2009 are paying off and that people should have confidence in this new year.

On other topics:

—The president said Tiger Woods, the champion golfer who has fallen into disgrace amid reports of extramarital affairs, can be “rehabilitated,” as his interviewer put it. “Absolutely,” Obama said. “I don’t want to comment on his personal relationship with his wife and family, but I’m a strong believer that anybody can look within themselves, find their flaws and fix them.”

—The first lady said one of the most memorable moments of the year came when their daughters, Sasha and Malia, met the pope at the Vatican. “It was interesting,” she said, “the picture of the pope and Malia and Sasha standing there exchanging conversation: ‘How’s school?’ ‘It’s fine.’

—The president opted not to lower the grade he had given himself for his own performance in 2009 — a B-plus — in light of the intelligence and security failures that allowed a suspected terrorist to board a Detroit-bound plane with explosives in an effort to blow it up. “When you look at what we’ve done this year on national security, we performed at a very high level in as difficult an environment as you can imagine,” he said.

—The president said he misses daily, spontaneous interactions while living in a bubble. He said the job is lonely in another way — the gravity of sending troops off to war or responding to an attempted terrorist attack. “That side of the loneliness of the job is what I signed up for and I actually think I’m pretty good at,” he said.

The new issue of People will be on newsstands Friday.