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Will Obama's second term be one of compromise or 'political conquest'?

Brad KnickerbockerThe Christian Science Monitor

As he moves into his second term, President Obama says he’s going to spend more time communicating directly with the American people – something he acknowledges having done too little of during his first term – while working to present his administration and most congressional Democrats as willing to compromise on important issues.

“I've been spending a lot of time just thinking about how do I communicate more effectively with the American people?” Mr. Obama said in an interview with the New Republic magazine. “How do I try to bridge some of the divides that are longstanding in our culture? How do I project a sense of confidence in our future at a time when people are feeling anxious?”

Obama acknowledges that Democrats have “got a lot of warts, and some of the bad habits here in Washington when it comes to lobbyists and money and access…”

“But when it comes to certain positions on issues, when it comes to trying to do what's best for the country, when it comes to really trying to make decisions based on fact as opposed to ideology, when it comes to being willing to compromise, the Democrats, not just here in this White House, but I would say in Congress also, have shown themselves consistently to be willing to do tough things even when it's not convenient, because it's the right thing to do,” he continued. “And we haven't seen that same kind of attitude on the other side.”

That’s certainly not the perception of leading Republicans in Congress, particularly in the wake of an inauguration speech in which Obama was loud and clear on such favorite liberal themes as gun control, gay rights, and climate change.

“When you saw his speech, say, at the inauguration, it leads us to conclude that he’s not looking to be moderate, that he’s not looking to move to the middle,” Rep. Paul Ryan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. “He’s looking to go farther to the left, and he wants to fight us every step of the way politically.”

"All of [Obama’s] statements and all of the comments lead me to believe that he's thinking more of a political conquest than a political compromise,” Ryan said, echoing House Speaker John Boehner’s recent comment that Obama wanted to “annihilate” the GOP. He also gave a back-handed compliment to Hillary Clinton, the retiring Secretary of State who – very conceivably – could face off against Ryan in a run for the presidency in 2016.

“If we had a Clinton presidency, if we had Erskin Bowles chief of staff of the White House, or president of the United States, I think we would’ve fixed this fiscal mess by now,” Ryan said. “That’s not the kind of presidency we’re dealing with right now.”

Like Obama, Ryan acknowledged his party’s need to attract a wider range of voters by communicating in a way that addresses peoples’ personal needs and concerns.

“We have to expand our appeal to more people and show how we’ll take the country’s founding principles and apply them to the problems of the day to offer solutions to fix our problems,” he said. “We have to show our ideas are better at fighting poverty. How our ideas are better at solving health care. How our ideas are better at solving the problems people are experiencing in their daily lives and that’s a challenge we have to rise to, and I think we’re up for it.”

Ryan hinted at one controversial issue on which he might agree with Obama: The need for stricter regulations on gun registration, including background checks.

“The question of whether or not a criminal is getting a gun is a question we need to look at,” he said. “We need to look into making sure there aren’t big loopholes where a person can illegally purchase a firearm.”

On guns, Obama pointed to the differences in perception in Democrat-leaning urban areas and rural areas more likely to vote Republican – something he said his party often fails to do.

“I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake,” he told the New Republic.

“Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas. And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were ten, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that,” he said. “So it's trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes.”