TAMPA, Fla. —Trying to bury a year of polarization, President Obama on Thursday escalated his appeal for politicians and voters alike to settle differences without tearing each other apart. His plea: "Let's start thinking of each other as Americans first."
Obama made sure to weave that message throughout his stop in Florida, one otherwise intended to promote his economic agenda by announcing $8 billion in high-speed rail awards.
Coming one day after his State of the Union address, and one day before meeting with House Republican leaders with whom he continues to battle, Obama's emphasis on civility was a nod to political reality. He needs Republicans more than ever to get his agenda passed, and he is getting saddled with more public blame for the partisanship he promised to change.
"Nothing that human beings do will be perfect," Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, said as he capped a town hall at the University of Tampa, where he was received with boisterous support.
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"But we shouldn't sort of assume that the other side is either heartless or doesn't care about sick people or is some socialist/communist who's trying to take over the health care system," the president said. "We start getting into these caricatures. They're so damaging."
Just how far to go in working with Republicans has been an evolving calculation for the White House. Obama ended up muscling through a giant economic stimulus plan with little help from the opposition party and was poised to do the same on major health care legislation.
Obama takes responsibility, but not blame.
He still casts Republicans as a party of "no" and calls that their political strategy.
"I want the Republicans off the sidelines. I want them to work with us to solve problems," Obama said. And then he added: "I don't want an attitude 'If Obama loses, then we win.' I mean, that can't be a platform. ... All of us should be rooting for each other."