President Obama, who has become a target of the Occupy Wall Street protests sweeping the country, today embraced the economic frustration being given voice on the streets and said that his vision for America’s economic system is best suited to resolve protesters’ concerns.
“I understand the frustrations being expressed in those protests,” Obama told ABC News senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper in an exclusive interview from Jamestown, N.C.
“In some ways, they’re not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party. Both on the left and the right, I think people feel separated from their government. They feel that their institutions aren’t looking out for them,” he said.
Obama said the most important thing he can do as president is express solidarity with the protesters and redouble his commitment to achieving what he described as a more egalitarian society.
“The most important thing we can do right now is those of us in leadership letting people know that we understand their struggles and we are on their side, and that we want to set up a system in which hard work, responsibility, doing what you’re supposed to do, is rewarded,” Obama said. “And that people who are irresponsible, who are reckless, who don’t feel a sense of obligation to their communities and their companies and their workers that those folks aren’t rewarded.”
Obama alluded to his American Jobs Act, which is funded in part by raising taxes on wealthier Americans and some corporations in order to make them pay “their fair share.”
“We’re at a critical moment in this country where if we can regain some of the values that helped build this country that people, I think, long for, when they feel that everybody gets a fair shake but we’re also asking a fair share from everybody, if we can go back to that then I think a lot of that anger, that frustration dissipates,” he said.
Obama acknowledged that widespread popular frustration is directed at him over the administration’s failure to jumpstart job creation and economic growth. But he shrugged off the suggestion that he could have done more from the start, including focusing less on health care reform.
“Every day I think about other things we could be doing,” Obama said. “The truth of the matter is what we passed is a very big Recovery Act that we knew was going to take some time to take effect. It made a difference,” he said.