Call it "too much substance, not enough style?" President Barack Obama says his biggest mistake since getting to the White House three and a half years ago has been his tendency to tackle the job as national policy wonk rather than the inspiring figure he cut in the 2008 campaign.
"When I think about what we've done well and what we haven't done well," the president told CBS television in an interview, "the mistake of my first term - couple of years - was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right."
"And that's important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times," Obama said in an excerpt of the exchange with Charlie Rose.
Presidents — politicians in general — tend to sidestep questions about their biggest mistake in office, though they sometimes stumble spectacularly over them (as George W. Bush did in April 2004), or offer up a self-serving answer that might be lampooned as "I just love America too much." Obama seems to be saying that, dagnabbit, he just took the job too gosh-darn seriously. Republicans wasted little time in mocking the answer. Republican National Committee spokesman Tim Miller tweeted "I'd go w/ utter economic failure."
And Mitt Romney hit out hard at Obama: "Being president is not about telling stories."
"Being president is about leading, and President Obama has failed to lead. No wonder Americans are losing faith in his presidency," Romney said in a statement.
Obama also seemed to make the argument that he just can't catch a break.
"It's funny - when I ran, everybody said, 'well he can give a good speech but can he actually manage the job?'" he said. "And in my first two years, I think the notion was, 'Well, he's been juggling and managing a lot of stuff, but where's the story that tells us where he's going?' And I think that was a legitimate criticism."
"So getting out of this town, spending more time with the American people, listening to them, and also, then, being in a conversation with them about where do we go together as a country, I need to do a better job of that in my second term," the president said.
Rose pressed him, asking whether he means explaining, and Obama replied: "Explaining — but also inspiring."
"Because hope is still there," First Lady Michelle Obama added.
CBS will broadcast more of the interview on Sunday morning and Monday morning.