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President Obama covered lots of ground on the Today show (taped Monday). Perhaps most interesting was his parry with Matt Lauer’s tired questions about the “tone in Washington.” Lauer suggested things had gotten more vitriolic in Obama’s first year; Obama framed it as just the partisan warfare one expects from a two-party system. Lauer suggested Obama has struggled to be an avatar of “hope” in the same way Bush failed to be a “uniter not a divider”; Obama responded with a bunch of stuff about the 24-hour news cycle wagging the dog of politics.

The real meat, though, came when Lauer asked about the Tea Party. The president made a distinction between those “core” members who question his citizenship and call him a socialist, and those who have “legitimate concerns.” He went on to spell out those concerns as things like deficit spending and the size of his reform agenda. The answer starts about two-thirds through the video above. There’s an excerpted transcript after the jump.

Obama gets half of it right. Yes, there are sane people for whom the Tea Party ethos is appealing. These are some of the millions who also find something appealing about Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, and they’re the ones to whom Obama and other Democratic leaders need to start talking. But their anxieties run far deeper than deficit spending. They’re worried about where they fit into a rapidly changing economy and culture - just like the rest of us are. And a meaningless “freeze” in domestic spending growth won’t answer that kind of concern.

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