Thomas Frank has another in his “why doesn’t Obama use his unilateral authority to cause the Republican Party to spontaneously combust” series up:
President Obama is in the doldrums. He has run out of ideas, and out of gas. His strongest supporters are in the grip of a morbid fatalism. There is nothing the president can do any longer, they sigh, because of the intransigent Republicans in the House of Representatives. The great days of the Obama presidency are behind us, everyone seems to believe, and the most this once-promising president can do now are hold convenings and issue small-bore executive orders while awaiting a round of midterm elections that are likely to go against him. Oh, woe is he.
There is also still an opportunity for momentous, headline-making, consensus-shattering deeds. Each of the following three ideas would move the country in the direction Obama has always maintained he wanted to move us—toward accountability, away from inequality, toward a healthy middle class. And each of them is sufficiently big that it might make a difference this fall.
I know! If Obama was actually willing to do something, he could take major executive action to address, say climate change. Or discrimination against gays and lesbians. Or immigration reform. Or maybe he shouldn’t bother, since something has changed in 2009 and for some reason these issues are all now at best of minor interest to progressives, just like massively expanding health insurance coverage for the poor.
Frank’s three proposed ideas aren’t bad ones, even if the framing is silly. More aggressive prosecution of financial fraud, sure, although I don’t think getting convictions upheld under actually existing federal statutes and actually existing federal courts is quite the slam dunk Frank suggests. More aggressive antitrust enforcement, quite possibly, although I’m pretty dubious about returning to Johnson-era standards. I’m not sure that bringing expensive litigation to, say, block the merger of the 3rd and 8th biggest shoe companies in the country is the best use of scarce prosecutorial resources. And while this could have benefit consumers I see no evidence that it would meaningfully reduce inequality — small businesses aren’t notable for providing better pay. Increasing college tuition is a serious problem, and Obama perhaps should be doing more, but much of the proposed action here is vague or unworkable. (I’ve written before about my puzzlement with the tendency of some leftier-than-thous to fetishize Nixon’s wage and price controls, but what seems most salient here is that the latter didn’t actually work.)
Whatever the merits of these ideas, however, I do know that 1)taking action on them would not meaningfully affect the outcome midterm elections, and 2)would not cause the Republican coalition to collapse. If bold executive action on important issues was what was necessary to win midterm elections, all of the actions Frank ignores would already be sufficient. I really have no idea why the value of pretending otherwise is supposed to be.