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John Feehery: Obama must move to center

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The 2014 election will be a referendum on President Obama. If all trends continue as expected, that won’t be a good thing for congressional Democrats.

The president’s approval ratings are tanking at precisely the wrong moment for his friends on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats in red and purple states are rightly freaked out about what this means for their electoral prospects. House Democrats have long conceded that they don’t have a prayer for retaking the lower chamber.

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Obama has a fundamental choice. He can either try to play to his base by tacking to the left, or he can move aggressively to the center.

It seems he and his colleagues have decided to stoke up their most ardent supporters. They have pounded of late on issues important to labor, to minorities and to women, and largely ignored issues that appeal to a broad swath of American voters.

I think that is a mistake. Obama should move to the middle and start governing as a centrist. That would make it easier for the most vulnerable Democrats in swing states to survive, and it would rebrand the party as one that solves problems, rather than one that creates controversies for political advantage.

Here are some suggestions on how the president could tack to the center:
 
• Introduce a pro-growth tax-cut plan: Obama should drop the pointless class-warfare attacks on his biggest campaign contributors and actually come up with a plan that deeply cuts the corporate tax rate. He should make it easier for companies to bring back investments from overseas. This will spark real economic growth and put the average American voter in a better mood.

• Work with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on a real poverty agenda, including welfare and food stamp reform: The president can only tack to the middle with Republican help, and no Republican wants to sincerely deal with persistent poverty more than the House Budget Committee chairman.

• Become the anti-crime president: Crime might be down in most areas of the country, but it is up in his hometown of Chicago. Obama has to take a moral stand against the daily carnage that has been mostly inflicted by young African-American men on other young African-American men there. I have suggested an inner-city, anti-gang surge of resources and police to battle the gangbangers. The president should not only say something, he should do something.

• Get a budget deal: I know it might seem counterintuitive to pass something as politically risky as entitlement reform in an election year, but for the president, he really has nothing to lose. Plus, an agreement that puts the country on a more fiscally responsible spending path would be good for the economy in the long run and would help to burnish the president’s legacy.

• Fire Eric Holder and Valerie Jarrett: Outside of Michelle Obama, these two — the attorney general and senior adviser, respectively — are the president’s most trusted advisers, and also the ones who consistently push him to the left. The president could make a huge statement to the general public that he is going to change the direction of his White House by changing his key advisers.

• Postpone all ObamaCare mandates indefinitely: The individual mandate, the small-business mandate, the big-business mandate, the mandates on religious institutions — just postpone them for another couple of years. Why put the American people through this pain and suffering, especially in an election year?

• Take aggressive action against a terrorist nation to show some spine: Bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities. Take out Bashar Assad in Syria. Stop putting up with the nonsense from the North Korean dictator. For God’s sake, stop leading from behind and start exerting some American power.
 
I doubt the president will take me up on any of these suggestions, however. He will continue to play to his left-wing base, and as a result, the Democrats will suffer huge losses this fall. And I’m OK with that political result. But from a policy perspective, I would prefer that the president start governing from the center and stop politicking from liberal fringe.

Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).