President Obama said in an interview aired Tuesday that he regrets how politically divided Congress and the country have become during his presidency, but he added America has been polarized in the past, citing the Civil War as his example.
The president's comment came during an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, who asked Obama if he views his inability to unite the country as a personal failure.
“When you stand in that room [for the State of the Union address], you will be looking out over a room that is arguably as divided as it has ever been,” Lauer began his question. “Do you see that as a failure of your presidency? You came to town saying it was about hope and change, that you were going to change the tone in Washington. You wanted to unite people, and they're not united.”
“It's a regret,” Obama said in response.
The president added that he is proud of what his administration has accomplished and cautioned to not look at the past “through rose-colored glasses.”
“It's been pretty divided in the past. There have been times where people beat each other with canes, and we had things like the Civil War. So, there have been times where it has been pretty rough,” he said.
He also said that “politics in Washington are so much more divided than the American people are,” adding one goal of his State of the Union speech is to tell the country it is not as ideologically polarized as it may appear.
Obama's answer comes as both liberal and conservative commentators have criticized Washington for being too politically divided to compromise on a range of issues.
Other divisions have also taken prominence in public discourse during Obama's presidency, particularly over racial issues, as seen in Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, for example, and income inequality. All three Democratic presidential candidates have made the gap between the rich and poor a focal point of their campaigns, arguing the current economic system is rigged in favor of top income earners.
Obama sought to portray himself as a uniter during his 2008 campaign, promising to change how Washington operates by bringing both political parties closer together.