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« Obama Press Conference -- First Thoughts | Blog Home Page | Strategy Memo: Stimulus Vote, Take 2 »

Obama Meets the Press

Much has been made about President Obama's initial displays of bipartisanship, and his subsequent return to the rhetoric of the campaign trail. In his first press conference last night, it seemed clearer that in his view, the two approaches are not contradictory - that two different philosophies of government should not preclude the nation's leaders from quick action.

Obama's own philosophy was made clear in his opening statement, as he declared that "it is only government that can break the vicious cycle" the nation finds itself in, and furthermore that "tax cuts alone can't solve all of our economic problems." His recovery plan is not perfect, he said, but it's "of sufficient size and scope" to have the kind of impact he desires.

"That wasn't just some random number that I plucked out of a hat," he said of the $800 billion price tag.

He reminded Americans of the "series of overtures" that he made to the Republican parties, including his "unprecedented" appointment of three Cabinet members. These moves "were not designed simply to get some short-term votes," but "to build up some trust," the president said.

"And I think that as I continue to make these overtures, over time hopefully that will be reciprocated," he added.

He said his tone in the negotiations has been "consistently civil and respectful," acknowledging that there would be disagreements. Some would be natural and acceptable, but he indicated frustration at what he saw as simply untenable entrenchment of some in the GOP.

"We can differ on some of the particulars, but again, the question I think the American people are asking is, do you just want government to do nothing, or do you want it to do something? If you want it to do something, then we can have a conversation. But doing nothing, that's not an option from my perspective," he said.

Obama's delivery was confident. And so is his team, which had trumpeted earlier in the day new findings from a Gallup poll that found that most Americans support Obama's handling of the recovery plan (even if they don't support the plan itself), and still view Republicans unfavorably.

Even more troubling than what he portrayed as an extreme view on the role of government was the "language" that has been used in the debate, with some suggesting the recovery plan is loaded with pork and government spending.

"When I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now, and the economic crisis that we have right now," he said.

These kinds of statements are symptomatic of the Washington Obama said he's hopeful he can still change, not just for the sake of his administration but for people like those he spoke to earlier Monday in Indiana.

"We're coming off an election and I think people want to sort of test the limits of what they can get," he said. "There's a lot of jockeying in this town and a lot of who's up and who's down and positioning for the next election. And what I've tried to suggest is that this is one of those times where we've got to put that kind of behavior aside, because the American people can't afford it. The people in Elkhart can't afford it."

Obama has described himself as a pragmatic progressive, a theme he also voiced tonight.

"My whole goal over the next four years is to make sure that whatever arguments are persuasive and backed up by evidence and facts and proof that they can work, that we are pulling people together around that kind of pragmatic agenda," he said. "I think that there was an opportunity to do this with this recovery package because as I said, although there are some politicians who are arguing that we don't need a stimulus, there are very few economists who are making that argument."

He then said he was "the eternal optimist," that the "ideological blockage' could be cleared up.

"I think that over time people respond to civility and rational argument. I think that's what the people of Elkhart and people around America are looking for. And that's what I'm -- that's the kind of leadership I'm going to try to provide," he said.