Democrats, return to center

Among President Obama’s negative recent poll numbers is one amazing positive figure: In a recent Washington Post poll, his job approval is 49 percent and disapproval 48 percent — a statistical dead-heat.

Why is this? My only good guess is that most Americans know that the president inherited a pretty tough deck of cards and is trying his best. So why don’t congressional Democrats, along with Obama, get more credit for trying?

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I think it’s because too often the voice of congressional Democrats, especially in the House, seems more left of center — seems more big-government, big-spending, big-deficits, anti-business and -growth.

I think this perception is wrong and unfair. But it is a reality. The loss of independent voter support is a result of that perception and why President Obama and Democrats are looking at what could be a debacle in the November election.

It’s time to hit the reset button and return to the progressive centrist message that worked not just in 2006 and 2008 with Barack Obama’s campaign but really back to 1992, when Bill Clinton was first elected. Clinton ran as a “New Democrat” — socially liberal, culturally moderate, fiscally conservative, pro-business, in favor of leaner government. He left his two terms as president with a trillion-dollar budget surplus and a 65 percent approval rating. 

Obama in 2008 added to Clinton’s unique New Democrat hybrid a “New Politics” dimension: As he famously said at his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote speech, he was appealing to “not a red-state America or a blue-state America but a United States of America.”

Now it is time to reframe the Democratic record to be consistent with this Clinton-Obama combination: The stimulus bill was temporary — now it is time to return to fiscal discipline and reliance on business-sector job growth. The health insurance bill was necessary — now it is time to focus on cost-cutting and entitlement reform. The financial services bill was long overdue — but now it is time to reach out to the business community and to consult with it about private-market solutions for long-term growth and deregulation where appropriate.

Such a pivot and return to a progressive-center message is the only hope for Democrats to minimize the usual midterm losses this November and win back many independent voters. That message is where most voters are. Returning to the pragmatic “solutions business” — whether coming from the left, right or a third way — is what most Americans need and want, now more than ever. 

Note to reader: In my July 18 “Purple Nation” column, I wrote about the need for short-sellers who testify or write negatively about an industry to disclose their short positions by which they will profit if company stock values in that industry decline — in this case, focusing on testimony by a short-seller who criticized for-profit companies without disclosing his short positions, if any, in those companies. It did not occur to me that I needed to disclose my past legal representation of the personal financial interests of my client William Weld, who had been an executive in a for-profit college — Decker College. I never represented Decker College, which is now in bankruptcy and defunct. My position in favor of short-seller transparency is longstanding. Many years ago, I briefly organized a “Full Disclosure Coalition” supporting legislation requiring such short-seller disclosures.