OBAMA REBUFFS O’REILLY’S ‘MOVE TO THE CENTER’ ARGUMENT…. Shortly before the Super Bowl, President Obama sat down in the White House with Bill O’Reilly, in an interview the Fox News host said would have more viewers than “any other interview that’s ever been done in the history of mankind.”

Those Fox News personalities do like to think big, don’t they?

The interview covered some of the major issues of the day, most notably developments in Egypt, with the president explaining that the U.S. can’t force the Mubarak government’s decisions, but “what we can do is we can say, ‘The time is now for you to start making change in that country.’”

Pressed on the possible role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s future, Obama noted that the group is just “one faction,” which doesn’t have “majority support.” Asked if the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat, the president added, “They are well-organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S. There’s no doubt about it. But here’s the thing that we have to understand: there are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well. And it’s important for us not to say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people.”

Of particular interest, though, was the back and forth over the perceived “intrusion” of a “huge government,” as O’Reilly put it. The president explained, accurately, that these perceptions just don’t match the reality. It led to this exchange:

O’REILLY: [T]he pundits now say you’re moving to the center to raise your approval, is that true, are you moving to the center?


O’REILLY: No? Because we were set up over there, and then they moved you a little to the center.

OBAMA: (Laughs) Here’s what I think is true. Over the first two years of my presidency, we had a complete disaster. Right? We had a complete crisis. The financial markets were breaking down. We were slipping into a Great Depression. And we had to take a bunch of extraordinary steps in order to make sure that the economy was growing again, which it is now, growing. Making sure that the private sector was creating jobs again. It’s now doing that.

And now our focus is not on refighting the battle of the last two years…

O’REILLY: So you’re not moving to the center?

OBAMA: I haven’t — I didn’t move to…

O’REILLY: You haven’t moved anywhere? You’re the same guy?

OBAMA: I’m the same guy. My practical focus, my common-sense focus right now is how to we out-innovate, out-educate, out-building, out-compete the rest of the world? How do we create jobs here in the United States of America? How do we make sure that businesses are thriving? But how do we also — making sure that ordinary Americans can live out the American dream?

As far as the White House is concerned, there may be a political upside to people thinking the president has “moved to the center” — the media has been preoccupied with this for weeks — but I’m glad Obama pushed back, because the observation itself is pretty silly. Paul Waldman had a great item on this last week: “Everyone is obsessed about Obama moving to the center. Too bad it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

Postscript: What did Fox News’ “Fox Nation” website consider important about the interview? The fact that the president wasn’t wearing a necktie.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.