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“Everything you do matters,” Mr. Obama told Fox News a few days after the NBC interview. “I’m now signing letters to the families of troops who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“Every time you sign that, you are reminded that you have enormous responsibilities and so, that’s why all of these debates - when I’m talking to Democrats or Republicans, one of the things I try to remind them and something I remind myself every single day is the only criteria for what I do should be - is it working for the American people?

“Because this job is too big, too important, to just want to occupy space,” he said. “And if I’ve spent the next four years, every day, making decisions based on that single criteria, is this going to help the American people achieve their dreams and keep them safe, then I’ll be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘You know what, you did a good job.’ ”