WASHINGTON - Elected in 2008 on a "hope and change" mantra and vowing an end to bitter partisan politics, President Barack Obama admitted in remarks released Sunday that he had failed to close the divide.
"Washington feels as broken as it did four years ago," Obama said in an interview with CBS television, betraying the fact that Congress is more polarized than ever between rival Republicans and Democrats.
The past three-and-a-half years have been marked by blanket Republican opposition to Democratic initiatives as Obama's opponents adopt a policy that any compromise that helps the president must be snuffed out at all cost.
Democrats, in turn, have refused to budge on protecting large social programs and insist that the wealthiest Americans should pay more tax if the poorest are to lose some of their state benefits.
Having struggled to break out of the stalemate, Obama said the fact that he hadn't "been able to change the atmosphere here in Washington to reflect the decency and common sense of ordinary people" frustrated him most.
"There's no doubt that I underestimated the degree to which in this town politics trump problem solving," he said. "One of the things you learn in this office is everything takes a little longer than you'd like."
Obama, battling stubbornly high unemployment and slow growth that have hurt his re-election chances, said the US electorate would decide in November whether he or his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, have the best solutions.
"The most important issue we face as a country is how do we build an economy where the middle-class is strong and growing, and those who are willing to work hard can fight their way into the middle-class," he said.
"The question right now for the American people is which vision, mine or Mr Romney's is most likely to deliver for those folks, because that is where the majority of American people live."