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Obama's Focus Should be Cooperation


Only the passage of time will tell if Barack Obama's second inaugural address ranks among the better in American history, alongside inaugurals delivered by such presidents as Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Kennedy.

But only the most grudging critics would argue that the nation's 44th president did not rise to the occasion Monday as he solemnly swore anew to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Before hundreds of thousands gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Obama delivered a mostly centrist message that, we hope, informs the next four years of his presidency.

As he stood atop the stairs of the U.S. Capitol, the president sounded broad themes on which those who daily work under its dome - Democrats and Republicans alike — almost certainly can agree.

"A free market," said Obama, "only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play." Also, "a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life's worst hazards and misfortune."

Some might have read into the president's pronouncements that he was setting the stage in his second term for bigger government; for even more regulation of business; for even more spending on entitlements.

But the president endeavored to set such suspicions aside. "We have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority," he declared, "nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society's ills can be cured through government alone."

We imagine that even House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., were taken aback, and pleasantly so, by that line.

Of course, Boehner, McConnell and their fellow Republicans will soon find out whether President Obama truly meant what he said.

Evidence will emerge during the first 100 days of the Democrat's second term, when he lays out an agenda, when he figures to enjoy maximum influence on Capitol Hill, before lawmakers start looking toward the 2014 midterm elections.

Obama offered a preview Monday of that agenda.

And we expect that he will find much GOP support for his stated intention to "remake our government, revamp our tax code, reform our schools, and empower our citizens."

And he won't get much quarrel from Republicans that the White House and Congress "must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit."

The challenge facing the president is how to actually achieve each of those goals with the necessary buy in from his loyal opposition. The suggestion here is that the president try a charm offensive during these first 100 days.

Rather than use that political window to force feed Republicans policy proposals they are certain to oppose — like the climate change initiative Obama hinted at — we think he would find it far more fruitful to focus on initiatives for which he can win bipartisan support.

President Obama has an opportunity in his second term to prove that it is possible for Democrats and Republicans to work together for the good of the republic. To the degree he pursues that opportunity, we wish him success.




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