— -- Combative, confident, even cocky: President Barack Obama told Rolling Stone magazine in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday that he hopes American voters will "break the fever" gripping today's Republicans and that he felt no stage fright whatsoever when he sang Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" at the Apollo Theater in January.
"I can sing. I wasn't worried about being able to hit those notes," Obama told the magazine, which ranked the R&B crooner's 1971 hit the 60th greatest song of all time. He also said he overruled senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, who urged him to give that opportunity a miss. The audio of his full answer is here.
The president—who will spend the next six months urging American voters, "Let's stay together"—slammed today's Republican Party and implied that Mitt Romney would not be able to pivot to moderate positions after staking out conservative ground to win the nomination.
"I don't think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, 'Everything I've said for the last six months, I didn't mean.' I'm assuming that he meant it. When you're running for president, people are paying attention to what you're saying," Obama said. "I think the general election will be as sharp a contrast between the two parties as we've seen in a generation." Obama, branding his critics "far out of the mainstream," added: "My hope is that if the American people send a message to them that's consistent with the fact that Congress is polling at 13 percent right now, and they suffer some losses in this next election, that there's going to be some self-reflection going on—that it might break the fever. They might say to themselves, 'You know what, we've lost our way here. We need to refocus on trying to get things done for the American people.'"
The president seemed to bristle when asked whether he would support gay marriage. He has yet to do so formally, despite pledging not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act. "I'm not going to make news in this publication," he said, insisting that "we're going to keep on working in very practical ways to make sure that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are treated as what they are—full-fledged members of the American family." (This comment may face skepticism from gay rights advocates.)
Obama also seemed on the defensive when asked why "there hasn't been a single criminal prosecution of any of the individuals who actually made the decisions that wrecked the global economy."
"In some cases, really irresponsible practices that hurt a lot of people might not have been technically against the law," he said. But "I think there's still possibilities of criminal prosecutions. But what I've instructed the attorney general to do is to follow the evidence and follow the law. That's how our system works."
Asked about efforts to combat climate change, Obama defended his record and then pledged to bring the issue to the fore in the 2012 race.
"I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way. That there's a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation," he said.
Obama, who often notes in his campaign rallies that his job has put more gray in his hair, told Rolling Stone that "my skin is even thicker" than it was in January 2009 as a result of the criticism he has faced.
"You don't take it personally—you just recognize that it goes with the office and the desk and Marine One and all the other aspects of being president," he said.
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