Obama Takes the Blame for Failing to Change Washington

2 minute read

President Obama took the blame for failing to unite the nation, a campaign promise he made in the early days of “hope” and “change,” before the reality of Washington’s rancor stagnated his agenda.

During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Obama’s last as president, he said one of his major regrets as president is his failure to address the bitter partisanship that’s divided both lawmakers and the nation.

“Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest,” Obama said toward the end of his speech. “Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.”

Obama admitted perhaps a president with the skills of Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt could have bridged the divide, but said he will not give up during his last 12 months in office.

The statement of regret was issued shortly before a call to action—one Obama has been issuing during the primary campaign season where the partisan divide has been put on full display. Obama said Tuesday that to end the bitterness, America will have to reshape the way it does politics.

There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected. I know; you’ve told me. And if we want a better politics, it’s not enough to just change a Congressman or a Senator or even a President; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com