- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2011

In a live interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, President Obama on Sunday denied speculation that he has moved to the political center and said the worst part of being commander in chief is “being in the bubble.”

“It’s very hard to escape,” Mr. Obama told the fiery cable host. “You’re not able to just have a spontaneous conversation with folks, and that’s a loss. That’s a big loss.”

The president also said he tries not to let his detractors get to him: “The folks who hate you, they don’t know you.”

Asked if he has moved to the center, Mr. Obama gave a flat “no” as his answer.

On Egypt, Mr. Obama echoed his previous remarks that the troubled nation’s future is up to its people, not the U.S. He wouldn’t specify when he thought embattled President Hosni Mubarak would leave office.

“Only he knows what he is going to do,” Mr. Obama said of the longtime strongman, who has been a key U.S. ally in the region for three decades. “But here is what we know, which is [that] Egypt is not going to go back to what it was. The Egyptian people want freedom.”

The president didn’t elaborate on what he’d like to see in a transition, saying only that it has to start “now” and include a broad cross section of the populace.

Mr. Obama described Mr. Mubarak as a “good partner” when it comes to the Middle East peace process and counterterrorism, but he said the crisis in Egypt illustrates the futility of political repression.

“When you resort to suppression, when you resort to violence, that does not work,” he said.

On the domestic front, Mr. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, said he thought a federal judge in Florida was “wrong” to overturn his marquee legislative accomplishment, the health care reform law, as unconstitutional. Pressed by Mr. O’Reilly on polls showing opposition to the law, Mr. Obama said support is “evenly divided” between those in favor and those against the overhaul.

Even as Mr. Obama said he hasn’t moved to the political center, there are signs the White House is at least reaching out, including his appearance on Fox itself, a rare exclusive for the network, and a weekend tribute to former President Ronald W. Reagan from the president.

Mr. Obama marked what would have been former President Ronald W. Reagan’s 100th birthday Sunday with an op-ed in USA Today in which he commended his Republican predecessor’s “unique ability to inspire others to greatness.”

“No matter what political disagreements you may have had with President Reagan - and I certainly had my share - there is no denying his leadership in the world, or his gift for communicating his vision for America,” Mr. Obama wrote of America’s 40th president, whose two terms in the 1980s spanned an economic downturn and the end of the Cold War.

“He understood that while we may see the world differently, and hold different opinions about whats best for our country, the fact remains that we are all patriots who put the welfare of our fellow citizens above all else,” the president said.

Mr. Obama’s praise of Reagan touched on many of the themes from his State of the Union address last month - namely the need for bipartisanship and, chiefly, optimism.

It’s no surprise Mr. Obama is looking to Reagan’s tenure for wisdom. In addition to grappling with a recession and security threats from abroad, from 1981 to 1987 the Gipper faced a slim majority in the Senate and a House controlled by the opposing party.

On the other side of the political aisle, though, Republicans urged Mr. Obama to channel not only the optimism but the free-market ideas Reagan preached.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, in his own op-ed in the Detroit News, said within a week of taking office Reagan unshackled domestic energy which, within a few years, had U.S. oil production on the rise. That cheap energy, Mr. Upton said, underpinned the economic boom times of the 1980s.

“In contrast with Reagan’s pro-growth energy policies, President Obama’s energy moves are Big Government micromanaging straight out of the ‘70s playbook,” Mr. Upton said, pointing to Mr. Obama’s moves to shelve some offshore drilling and cancel leases in the Western U.S.

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