President Obama kicked off his bus tour today. And while his trip to the Midwest may be good politics in the short term it doesn't begin to address a long term problem that his administration faces if he is to successfully recover from his sinking approval ratings. Mr. Obama, if he wants to fix this problem must develop a comprehensive, centrist plan to balance the budget, create economic growth and most of all, create jobs.
To be sure, last Thursday in Michigan the president in Michigan started to unveil the beginnings of a jobs plan, talking about the need to invest in infrastructure and extend the payroll tax.
But that move, in and of itself, is not enough to sustain a bus tour, much less defend an increasingly unpopular administration against the clear, unambiguous and certainly strident attacks that have come from the Republicans both in the debate and subsequently.
Make no mistake. The Republicans are loaded for bear and are going to attack Obama frontfully. And in the short term, that is bad news for the President, as his approval rating has slipped to at or below 40% in the recent Gallup poll.
Still, there is cause for hope for the administration-- hope that they appear unable to capitalize on. As unpopular as the administration is becoming, the Republicans arguably are even less popular. They are seen as even less willing to compromise, less able to develop solutions to the nation's problems, and ultimately because of the Bush administration, more responsible for our current mess.
Hence, the approach the president should take is clear enough. Outline a centrist approach, emphasizing fiscal discipline, targeted tax cuts, entitlement reform and reductions in spending-- nondiscretionary, discretionary and defense-- to position himself as having a plan for America's future. Because right now the president, however much goodwill remains, lacks a plan, lacks an approach and is ceding independents to the Republicans, even though independents themselves have grave doubts about the GOP.
The New York Times on Sunday reported that the administration was having a fight inside the White House between the centrists who counsel conciliation and those who favor creating starker contrast between Democrats and Republicans.
It is pretty clear to me that the president wants to pursue more of a centrist course, because independents, whatever they think, support reductions in spending and holding the line on taxes.
But there is a larger issue, and it is something the president hasn't addressed and needs to address clearly and directly, which is the development of a strategy. He has veered from approach to approach over the last six months-- sometimes proposing more spending, other times proposing cuts in spending and reining in entitlements-- all the while never offering specifics.
Moreover, the administration veers from populist rhetoric, attacking yacht owners and hedge fund operators, to proposing non-partisan conciliation.
But what is missing from this White House is a clear set of policy options, a direction for the administration and a sense of where the country is heading.
President Obama appears befuddled and confused, and no matter what type of rhetoric he uses-- whether it be passionate, dispassionate or measured-- he simply cannot win reelection without a clear approach that speaks to the broad concerns of the American people.
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.