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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Michael Goodwyn: Try harder, Bam

President Obama has lost the country. Poll after poll confirms the American public has caught on to his false claim to be a mainstream centrist and, in the short run, there is little he can do to regain the trust he squandered.
Except for one thing. If he reversed course on giving civilian trials to 9/11 plotters, stopped giving terrorists extra legal rights and kept Guantanamo Bay prison open, Obama might be able to save his presidency.
It's the flip-flop most Americans would cheer.
Terrorism issues are fundamental to how the nation sees him. Large majorities want a military trial and oppose giving constitutional protections to Islamic fanatics and the damage to Obama's standing has grown into larger doubts about his values.

It's not just that his anti-terror policies are suspect. They are a proxy for defining him as an elitist more concerned with legal nuance and international opinion than with protecting America.
Paradoxically, that impact gives the policies outsized potential to help redeem him. And reversing course is the one silver bullet he alone controls.
Fixing any other big issue where the public has abandoned him -- unemployment, taxes, spending, health care -- will take time and require uncertain congressional action.

But ordering a military trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed at Gitmo is something Obama can do in a heartbeat. Ditto for changing the policy that gave the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights after only 50 minutes of questioning.
Treating that case like a routine crime continues to hurt Obama and was a key factor in even liberal Manhattan turning against the 9/11 trial.
By switching sides on both, Obama would be offering concrete proof he hears public discontent. He would also show he is capable of correcting a major mistake.
All the president needs to do is tell Attorney General Eric Holder he's going in a different direction. If Holder balks, Obama should let him walk.
That's not a bad idea in any event.

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