Obama wants to be 'more neighborly' with business 

As makeup sessions go, President Obama's short stroll across Lafayette Square Monday to address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce left ample room for progress on both sides. "I'm here in the interest of being more neighborly," Obama told the business lobby. "Maybe if we would have brought over a fruitcake when I first moved in, we would have gotten off to a better start."

Obama's visit with the chamber was the third stop in a tour of contrition that has brought him cheek-to-jowl with other, persistent former adversaries, including Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly.

"We are not looking to re-fight the battles of the last two years," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. "We have a lot of work we have to do together."

Obama's troubles with the chamber go way back. The business group fought his health care and Wall Street reform initiatives, and the two sides battled ruthlessly during last year's midterm elections, when the chamber helped finance campaign ads against Democrats and Obama accused the chamber of spending Chinese money on the campaigns.

More recently, Obama is working to shift perceptions that he is anti-business, and hopes to bring persistent high unemployment down with policies encouraging the private sector to start hiring again.

Although Obama's speech was greeted mostly with polite silence and perfunctory applause, the chamber is sounding cautiously optimistic.

Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue told Obama the business community has an "absolute commitment to working with you and your administration to advancing our shared priorities."

The chamber still supports repealing health care reform. But both sides acknowledged there are bigger issues at stake. It's a dynamic that also is shaping Obama's outreach in other directions.

"He operated in a certain way for the first two years because he thought he could, then realized in version 2.0 that the ground had shifted under him," said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. "The first part of changing is realizing you have a problem."

The day before his chamber visit, Obama sat down with O'Reilly for an pre-Super Bowl interview.

O'Reilly is a strenuous critic of the Obama administration which, in turn, has questioned the credentials and veracity of Fox News. The president last year called the network "destructive" with "a point of view that I disagree with."

In their pregame matchup, O'Reilly told Obama that "a lot of Americans feel that you are a big-government liberal who wants to intrude on their personal freedom," and asked about the president's recent political shift toward center.

"I'm the same guy," Obama said, echoing the larger White House position that nothing has changed.

Last week, Obama invited McCain, his 2008 campaign rival, to the Oval Office. The one-time antagonists talked about areas where they could work together.

"He knows if he wants a chance to get re-elected, and also to be effective and get things done, he is going to have to present himself as more moderate and mend some fences," said Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political scientist.

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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Julie Mason

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