Obama Needs a Mea Culpa Moment to Get Back on Track

It shouldn't come as any surprise that Politico reported today that President Obama plans to mount a sustained and vigorous negative campaign against presumed Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.

The president – having effectively run out of positive or proactive ideas -- can only run a negative campaign.

What this suggests is that while voters may not like him much, there is more about the Republicans -- and Mitt Romney in particular -- that they should find distasteful, or worse.

In a certain sense, this is all predictable.

Given that the president spent his first year in office pursuing an unpopular health care bill, as well as the fact that the economic stimulus did nothing to reduce -- and may well have played some role in increasing -- unemployment, it should come as no shock that the President's economic argument is tepid at best.

Moreover, the President's failure to balance the budget or succeed in reaching a Grand Bargain on the debt ceiling, and his inability to put in place a plan to reform entitlements, means that his overarching argument about his success in governing as a post-partisan President has largely been rendered a nullity.

Further, none of this should come as a great surprise given that President Obama took office having had no executive experience -- and frankly had never reached the kind of bipartisan agreements necessary to move forward in a difficult political environment in Washington.

This is why I have argued separately that Erskine Bowles needs to be brought in -- if only because he is the only man close to President Obama who has actually negotiated a successful balanced budget agreement with the Republicans during the Clinton administration and has proven compellingly that he has a plan to get America moving again.

But the President himself needs to recognize that his approach to governance is just plain wrong.

Winning political arguments -- which he may well have done in this recently completely debt ceiling fight vis-à-vis the Republicans -- is not enough and will ultimately hurt him in the end.

The reason is simple.  

The American people are moving in a conservative direction in support of fiscal discipline and fiscal prudence. And while the Tea Party's ratings may have gotten more negative, ultimately they are responsible for shifting the dialogue in the debate away from more spending, higher taxes and a more expansive government.

Make no mistake, as a centrist Democrat, I support the balanced approach to fiscal and social policy that the Bowles-Simpson commission outlined back in December. I support it on practical, economic and political grounds.

It simply is wrong for the president to pursue the same messages,  the same talking points and the same approach he has previously taken. Once again, he is reverting to political gamesmanship: tacking to the left, tacking back to the center, pleasing no one and accomplishing nothing.

He needs a different approach -- a profoundly different approach. And the only way he can do this is to move past this polarizing approach.

The smartest thing the president can do is look for a strategy of compromise and conciliation, fight the legislative leaders and work on an approach that involves no preconditions.

Only by doing this does the president have a chance to recast his presidency, move away from the politics of negativity, and change America fundamentally -- thus giving him something positive to argue for, as opposed to a set of hackneyed talking points that grow more hollow every day.

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.