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Seeking that elusive ‘common ground’

WASHINGTON DC - JANUARY 20:  Souvenir pins are displayed for sale as preparations continue for Presidential InauguratiJanuary 20 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 20: Souvenir pins are displayed for sale as preparations continue for the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. The U.S. capital is preparing for the second inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, which will take place on January 21. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Updated: February 22, 2013 6:31AM



WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama launches his second term determined, top adviser David Plouffe said Sunday, to try to change the highly partisan tone in Washington and seek out “common ground.” Sound familiar?

Obama’s vault to the White House started with his “No Red State, No Blue State” speech at the 2004 Boston Democratic convention. He campaigned for his first term in the White House in 2008 promising to usher in a post-partisan era.

That’s a pledge he failed to keep.

Obama’s second inaugural address on Monday, delivered from the west steps of the U.S. Capitol, will contain as one of its central themes a call for finding the elusive common ground.

This comes as congressional Republicans — down but not out in the wake of Obama’s strong November victory — present an obstacle to the opening chapters of Obama’s second term agenda. In the coming months, that’s immigration reform, dealing with the debt ceiling and related federal budget and spending issues, and the newest priority, measures to curb gun violence.

Obama’s speech will present the big picture, his vision, his over-arching themes and policy aspirations for his second term. Obama’s State of the Union Address on Feb. 12 — Lincoln’s Birthday — will fill in the details.

“He is going to say that our political system does not require us to resolve all of our differences… but it is absolutely imperative that our leaders try and seek common ground when it can and should expect. That’s going to be a very important part of the speech,” Plouffe said on ABC’s “This Week” hosted by George Stephanopoulos.

Obama is “going to make that point very strongly that people here in Washington need to seek common ground,” Plouffe told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”

Obama is doing this as he has practical time constraints to consider.

I talked about Obama’s second term challenges with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff who also served under former two-term President Bill Clinton. He’s seen up close how Clinton transitioned from one term to another.

“Second terms, if you look at Reagan, Clinton and Bush 43, all have a rhythm, which is the first 14 to 18 months are crucial periods of time to move on something significant,” Emanuel told me.

“The middle period is hit usually with a scandal, Iran Contra, there was Monica Lewinsky, there was even Scooter Libby.

“And then you are very productive at the end. Reagan got welfare reform and toward the end, immigration reform. Bill Clinton got the Kosovo War prosecuted and China into the WTO, George Bush got the [Iraq] surge.”

Each of those two-term presidents made big plays early on in their second terms: Ronald Reagan got tax reform; Bill Clinton won a balanced budget and NATO expansion; George Bush tried to overhaul Social Security and failed.

“What I used to say in the Clinton White House ... if we knew in the first year of the first term what we knew by the first year of the second term, we’d all be geniuses. Anybody involved, not just the president and vice president, you all are smarter, brighter, more informed of the apparatus,” the second time around.

“From the moment you get in there, the sand is dropping through the clock and time is your most important element to decide what are your priorities, what do you need to push,” Emanuel said.

While Plouffe talked about finding common ground with Republicans, Obama’s new political organization, Organizing for Action, was kicking off with a conference for campaign volunteers and staffers at the Washington Hilton here.

The group, a nonprofit, will be based in Chicago with offices in Washington. The executive director is Jon Carson, who, under Obama top adviser Valerie Jarrett, ran the White House Office of Public Engagement. Carson is a former Illinois political operative who managed Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s 2006 House campaign.

The campaign-like group will be devoted to building support for Obama’s second term goals. Insurance, in case the road through Congress does not lead to common ground.



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