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A screen capture image from a video announcement of U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign that was launched on April 4, 2011. (Reuters/Reuters)
A screen capture image from a video announcement of U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign that was launched on April 4, 2011. (Reuters/Reuters)

Obama now wants more than being 'really good one-term president' Add to ...

Barely a year ago, plunging in the polls, Barack Obama insisted he would rather go down as a "really good one-term president" than dilute his ambitious plans to transform America just to win re-election.

But as he officially kicks off his campaign for 2012, Mr. Obama appears resigned to watering down his agenda for the sake of securing a second term. The one-time candidate of change is no longer The One who would single-handedly revolutionize the country and its political culture.

"We've always known that lasting change wouldn't come quickly or easily," Mr. Obama wrote in an e-mail sent early Monday to supporters, beginning what is expected to be a $1-billion re-election bid. "The cause of making lasting differences … has never been about one person."

The Obama campaign has adopted a slogan - "It begins with us" - aimed at remobilizing the young, progressive and minority voters that ensured his victory in 2008. But will the rainbow coalition play along?

After all, Mr. Obama is no longer a blank slate onto whom voters of every colour, creed or political persuasion can project their hopes for a post-partisan America. He now has a record that is considered fiscally reckless by the right, middling by the middle, and one big compromise by his base.

It didn't helped that, only hours after officially launching the 2012 campaign, the Obama administration conceded that its signature promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay will go unfulfilled for years to come.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the administration was abandoning its attempt to try the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and his co-conspirators in a civilian court in Manhattan. They will instead go to trial before a military tribunal at Gitmo.

This is a considered a colossal cop-out by liberal Democrats who got behind Mr. Obama's 2008 candidacy precisely because of his strong and principled stand to uphold the legal rights of suspected terrorists.

Not only has Mr. Obama adopted the same counterterrorism tactics as George W. Bush - at best offering cosmetic improvements - he has resorted to a liberal interpretation of executive authority to implement them.

As a candidate the first time around, Mr. Obama repeatedly criticized Mr. Bush for bypassing Congress and the courts. Yet just last month, Mr. Obama himself used an executive order to authorize the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects at Gitmo who have yet to be charged with any crime.

Republicans have understandably seized on Mr. Obama's flip-flop to recast Mr. Bush's record in a more favourable light. But that may not be as damaging to this President as the disappointment his actions have caused among those who fought most enthusiastically to elect him in 2008.

Mr. Holder blamed Congress for forcing the administration to reverse its stand on trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York. Congress has made it illegal to transfer any Gitmo prisoner to U.S. soil. But that excuse will not fly with a Democratic base that considers the administration too timid across the board.

Indeed, the President's reputation as a serial compromiser could be his biggest handicap as he moves to recreate the winning conditions for 2012.

From health-care reform, to immigration, to global warming, to the federal budget, Mr. Obama has left Democrats on Capitol Hill to fend for themselves against Republican attacks on their priorities.

"You would expect a liberal Democrat president in the Franklin Roosevelt-Lyndon Johnson tradition to be engaged in the debate. And yet Mr. Obama seems to missing in action some of the time," offered Randall Ripley, a political science professor at Ohio State University.

Still, despite his disgruntled base, Mr. Obama is helped by a Republican field of presidential contenders that is described, diplomatically, by Prof. Ripley as "not a very inspiring bunch."

What's more, Mr. Obama has demographics on his side. The percentage of the electorate made up of black, Hispanic and minority voters is expected to rise to 28 per cent in 2012 from 26 per cent in 2008. Mr. Obama won nearly 80 per cent of the minority vote the last time; his support among white voters was only 43 per cent.

"Obama can win next year with a stunningly small percentage of the white vote - if Democrats can translate the minority-population growth [since 2008] into commensurate increases in the electorate," according to a National Journal analysis published last week.

Obama campaign strategists are betting that, given the alternative, the base will not hold the President's unfulfilled promises against him in 2012, while centrist voters will actually reward him for his compromises.

If it works, Mr. Obama may not have to worry about a being a one-term wonder. It may even free him to become a "really good" two-termer.

Editor's note: Due to a typo, an earlier version of this online article incorrectly identified 2011 as the year of the Sept. 11 attacks. The correct date is 2001. This online version has been corrected.

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