Four years in, shifts in Obama strategy, outlook

Cal Jillson, political science professor at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, talks about how Obama has changed during the last four years.

By Nancy Benac

WASHINGTON (AP) — Four years ago he was the fifth-youngest president to take the oath of office. Now Barack Obama is 51, his hair more gray, his face more lined.

He’s the parent of a teenager and a tween. (Insert your own joke about teens and gray hair here.) His blood pressure has ticked up a bit, although it’s still excellent. He’s quit smoking. He’s a pet owner.

And the changes in the president aren’t just physical. As he enters Term Two, he is sounding more confident, vowing a harder line on negotiations, relying more on trusted allies, promising less and expressing more cynicism about the grip of partisanship on Washington.

And perhaps most important, he seems more convinced of a need to keep the public with him, coming full circle to his people-driven 2008 campaign.

“You can’t change Washington from the inside,” he said during his re-election campaign. “You can only change it from the outside.”

On the best days of his presidency, Obama has been witness to the power and possibilities of the office he holds. On the worst, he’s seen its limitations.

He has celebrated passage of his mammoth health-care overhaul. And mourned the lost children of Newtown.

He has savored the nail-biter news that Osama bin Laden at last had been brought down. And stood vigil over the remains of fallen soldiers returned to Dover, Del.

Between the highs and lows came the daily grind of a daunting job whose demands never end. There is always one more negotiation. One more legislative tussle. One more economic soft spot. One more natural disaster.

By all accounts, Obama’s style and his character remain largely unchanged. But every chapter of his presidency — the gasp-inducing early economic crisis, the battle over health care, the midterm congressional shellacking, the mass shootings in the past year, the endless negotiations over debt and deficit, the re-election brawl — has helped to mold him and to shape his perspective....

“He hasn’t changed nearly as much as either Democrats or Republicans wish,” says Calvin Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University....