Are we seeing the beginning of a trend from the occupant of the Oval Office — a President Obama unbound?
That's the question after Obama cast aside his usual caution while speaking at a town hall-style meeting in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday. Asked about his proposals for attacking soaring higher education costs, Obama said:
"This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck. I'm in my second term, so I can say it. [Audience laughter.] You know, I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years because by the third year — in the first two years, young people are learning in the classroom. The third year they'd be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren't getting paid that much."
The president, a former University of Chicago law school lecturer, was injecting some levity into what is, yes, a controversial topic. The issue of two- versus three-year programs is at the center of a hot debate in legal education circles.
But his humor had a basis in truth. And it's true that as a president who no longer has to worry about re-election, the habitually cautious Obama is freer to wade into controversies he might have avoided in his first term.
Some observers certainly believed that's what they saw earlier this summer after George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
Maybe the president would have spoken as unequivocally as an African-American if the verdict had come before Election Day. But some who heard him were sure he spoke the way he did because re-election worries were behind him.
Of course, the president himself signaled last year that he would be freer to act after his re-election.
It wasn't a signal meant for public consumption, but remember when Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have "more flexibility" after his re-election?
Being unbound may not make it any more likely that he gets his legislative proposals through the GOP-led House. But he could kick-start a few interesting national discussions, if nothing else.