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May 30, 2017

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Barack Obama unveils second term prototype

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama wheeled out a lean and punchy prototype for his second-term presidency Wednesday, his purpose clarified by the voters who re-elected him a week ago.

In his first post-election press conference, Obama was a man in a hurry as he faces a year-end fiscal showdown with Republicans and anticipates the ebbing power that afflicts all second term presidents.

During his first four years, Obama often came across as an almost passive observer of his own presidency. Not so Wednesday as the president ditched his former professorial pose to hit the same point over and over again.

"I've got one mandate. I've got a mandate to help middle-class families and families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class," Obama said, in front of a flowing golden curtain in the East Room of the White House.

"That's what the American people said."

This was not the drained figure who trudged through the last year before putting in a listless convention speech and sleepwalking to disaster in his first debate against Republican foe Mitt Romney.

Since that debacle in Denver, Obama has pioneered a more concise style of argument, seeking to express focus and resolve. With his job in peril, this no-nonsense Obama showed up when he directed the relief effort as Superstorm Sandy pummeled New York and New Jersey.

The president used the murderous storm as a metaphor for the activist government he fought for in his campaign.

He described the federal relief effort as "aggressive and strong and fast and robust, and a lot of people have been helped because of it."

"That's a pretty good metaphor for how I want the federal government to operate generally," Obama added.

The president, who foes deride as arrogant, took pains to avoid hubris.

"I'm more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that," he said.

Obama may have been thinking about former President George W. Bush's ill-considered declaration that he had won a "mandate" despite squeaking to re-election in 2004.

As he spoke, Obama gripped the lectern bearing the presidential seal with his left hand, and gesticulated with his right — a pose he often assumes at his most engaged.

At times in his first term, Obama was windy and even boring, straying away from a cogent message. But his opening statement topped out at 740 words — compared to the 1,242-word lecture before his inaugural press conference in 2009.

His message was simple and oft-repeated: Republicans must accept the verdict of voters and allow tax cuts for the rich, passed by Bush, to expire to permit deficit reductions that do not hammer the middle class.

"I am open to new ideas ... I want to hear ideas from everybody. I believe this is solvable," Obama said, adding that "I'm not going to slam the door in their (the Republicans') face."

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