President Obama is bowing to political reality today in delivering his balanced budget speech.
In so doing, the president is taking steps to address the confidence gap among independent voters evident in the data from most recent Pew Center for People & the Press poll, which found that the president trails the GOP by twenty points in terms of managing the economy, and particularly in managing the deficit.
The Pew data suggests that notwithstanding the findings from last week’s Public Policy Polling survey which shows that independents have returned to the Democratic Party, the picture is more murky.
Indeed, the substantial drop in support among independents that the president and the Democratic Party faced in the November Midterm elections is still clear in most testing.
Stated simply, President Obama cannot get reelected if he has that kind of a gap among independents on fiscal issues.
Unless the president moves in the direction of a balanced budget, reining in entitlements, and getting a handle on the national debt he will not be able to get anywhere near the majority he got with Independents in 2008, and indeed is likely to lose this critical group no matter whom the Republicans nominate.
Thus, the president’s speech is essential, and his first budget is effectively inoperative.
That being said, the president did make a strategic blunder by specifying that he wants to raise taxes on upper income Americans – having only four months ago agreed to the opposite in his budget deal with the Republicans.
That budget deal is what got independents back to him at least temporarily following the midterm elections – an advantage that has been dissipating over time.
And indeed, what the president is really trying to do in his speech today is move as gingerly as possible towards the Gang of Six’s plan as he possibly can.
The Gang of Six’s three Democratic and three Republican Senators have made it clear that they are trying to come up with a consensus plan to balance the budget, and in doing so are pursuing a broader-based balanced budget settlement involving both reining in entitlements and a willingness – perhaps begrudging on the Republicans part – to countenance some increase in revenue re: tax increases.
This plan is the salvation of the Obama administration and is essential for the president to get himself back substantively where he is rhetorically – in the middle of the road, above politics, and seeking consensus and conciliation.
Despite his blunder on upper-income taxes, the speech today is a step in the right direction for the president, and an approach he has to continue – notwithstanding the howls that are almost certain to come from the Democratic left.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Arielle Alter Confino contributed to this piece