Lose The Pragmatism?

That's Frank Rich's advice for Obama on winning over independents:

[Pew] has found that nearly half of independents are in fact either faithful Democrats (21 percent) or Republicans (26 percent) who simply don’t want to call themselves Democrats and Republicans. (Can you blame them?) Another 20 percent are “doubting Democrats” and another 16 percent are “disaffected” voters, respectively anti-business and anti-government, angry and populist rather than mildly centrist. The remaining 17 percent are what Pew calls “disengaged”—young and uneducated Americans, four fifths of whom don’t vote anyway. There’s nothing about the makeup of any segment of these “all-important independent voters” that suggests bipartisan civility has anything whatsoever to do with winning their support.

Michael Tomasky echoes a similar sentiment:

Obama and his people seemed to think that over the summer, independents wanted them to cut a deal with the GOP on the debt ceiling. He'd look moderate, reasonable. So they cut it. Result: they lost about 8 points among independents, who hated the deal because it symbolized dysfunction and because the president looked weak. …

There is, then, a way for Obama to inspire both the base and swing voters, and it's absurdly simple: he needs to accentuate the items on which the two groups more or less agree and fight hard for them. I'd call it a radical stylistic posture on behalf of an ideologically modest agenda.

Andrew Sprung parses:

[Obama] is being punished in the court of public opinion not for trying to compromise but for failing to get a compromise. The difference is important.

Stanley B. Greenberg muddies the water:

We know from the way Obama carried independent voters in 2008 and the way Republicans carried them in 2010 that sometimes very strong positions taken by one of the parties sweep across the independents. Finding the position halfway is not necessarily the way to appeal to them. … There are affluent suburban voters who are fiscally conservative and culturally liberal; there are seniors, who are more populist than the population as a whole; and there are a high number of white, blue-collar voters who are deeply angry and have been explosive in election after election. In 2006 and 2008, all these groups voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. In 2010, they voted overwhelmingly for Republicans. Right now, I don’t think we have a clue where they’re going.

My two cents: tax reform. The biggest disappointment for me in the Obama years has been his timidity on reforming taxes and spending. A serious Bowles-Simpson style tax reform, which broadens the base, ends corporate welfare, and simplifies the system dramatically squares every circle. It can be used to defend raising revenues while lowering rates; it can be invoked as the ultimate weapon against the lobbyist culture in Washington; it is both populist and debt-reducing. Right now, the GOP candidates are more daring on this than the president. That's a problem.