President Barack Obama on Monday poked fun at claims that racism was behind fierce opposition to his ambitious political agenda, joking that “I was actually black before the election.”

It was the latest attempt by Obama to tone down the debate, after former US president Jimmy Carter commented that much of the conservative fury directed at Obama’s health care plans was motivated by racism.

Obama said on the “The Late Show” with David Letterman on CBS that the fact he was elected as America’s first African-American president at all was a more accurate indicator of wider race relations in the country.

“I think it’s important to realize that I was actually black before the election.”

“One of the things that you sign up for in politics is that folks yell at you,” the president said, in a taping for the show due to air later on Monday.

“Whenever a president tries to bring about significant changes, particularly during times of economic unease, there is a certain segment of the population that gets very riled up.”

Obama also said in a more serious vein that Americans were weary of the war in Afghanistan, and said US troops were performing heroically there and in Iraq.

After The Washington Post printed excerpts of a classified report by US Afghan war commander Stanley McChrystal warning the war could be lost without more troops, Obama said his number one goal was to defeat Al-Qaeda.

“The country is weary of the war. What I’m trying to do at this point is to make sure that… we have got a coherent strategy that can work.”

The US leader also dwelt on the life of his young daughters, Malia and Sasha, as they grow up in the White House, saying they “goofed off” during the long summer break.

When Obama said that was an option he did not have, referring to the pressure of world and domestic events, Letterman hit back, saying “others have,” in an apparent reference to ex-president George W. Bush who spent long summers on his Texas ranch.

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