"It's one of the few regrets of my presidency - that the rancour and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," he said.
"There's no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I'll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office."
This was the hopeful Obama of 2008, tempered by the realities of two terms in the White House.
The candidate who promised to break down the barriers between red states and blue states has found it is harder to make purple than he thought.
And perhaps that moment of candour was contagious. Moments after the speech ended I spoke with Republican congressman Luke Messer of Indiana.
Yes, he dismissed the president's vision of today's US as a "great Jedi mind trick" played on the American people. But he also accepted that his party's rhetoric often did not help lead to solutions either.