What Obama Needs to Say to Get Reelected

When the president kicked off his fundraising for the 2012 campaign, his supporters at a number of low dollar public events spontaneously broke out into cheers of "Yes we can!" harkening back to the slogan that Obama used to successfully in 2008.

Now, the question has been raised as to whether the president will reuse the slogan and campaign approach that was so successful in the 2008 election.

My own sense is that to do this would be a profound mistake because the response from the electorate, and certainly the Republicans is "No, we haven't." The reason I say that is because there is no clear sense in the American electorate that we have succeeded in our challenges domestically, notwithstanding the extraordinary success earlier this month in killing Usama bin Laden.

The president is at an all-time low for his economic ratings and for the direction of the country and the economy. There is no consensus-- in fact, there is the opposite of a consensus-- that he has achieved the results he was seeking. Indeed a campaign based on "Yes we can!" will be greeted cynically or worse.

What then should the president do?

It is clear that he believes, and a substantial number of Americans believe, that the president deserves at least some credit for stabilizing the American economy since his inauguration in January of 2009. And while there has been consistent but modest improvement in the economy lately, both in terms of jobs created and retail sales generated, this is very very modest progress indeed.

To be sure, the bailouts remain unpopular and the stimulus is a debt negative. But the president can successfully argue that he has begun the process of turning around the American economy. And indeed in that slogan of beginning the process of turning around the economy lays the seeds of a successful reelection campaign.

Put simply, if President Obama seeks to run and makes the election a referendum on himself, there is a substantial likelihood that he will lose, notwithstanding his bump in the approval ratings lately and the lead he apparently enjoys over the prospective Republican candidates.

But if he makes this election a referendum on the past, or more likely a contrast and a comparison between what most still regard as the failed policies of President George W. Bush, he is likely to be more successful.

So, slogans that speak to turning things around, such as "making tough decisions to get America moving again", "Starting the progress", "Revitalizing America", "Turning the corner", "Getting America going again"-- each of which implicitly or explicitly says that as bad as things are now, they were worse before-- is an approach that can have some resonance with critical swing voters in the Senate.

The "but" here is equally important.

It is absolutely clear that the Democratic base is looking for a full throated articulation of the same themes that the president ran on so successfully three years ago, as well as a populist attack on Wall Street, big oil and big business. And while this may be tempting and may help rally the faithful, it does nothing to persuade voters in the middle who are much more results oriented and want to know what the president has done for them, and more importantly what he will do in the future.

So like with everything else, the president has a delicate balance in that. But one thing is for sure, if he says to voters "yes we can" at this point, a clear majority will not accept that basic assertion.

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.