When you get right down to it, there isn’t much a president can do to affect the economy in a government that is both divided by design and, as in our current situation, politically.
It ultimately boils down to “optics,” which is political jargon for how something looks to the average citizen—for example, giving a ballyhooed speech in hopes that prospective 2012 voters will come away with the impression that the president actually has his hands on the controls of commerce and is playing them like the stops of a pipe organ.
His only tools—or weapons, if you wish⎯are cajolery and shame. Judging by recent events in Congress with the debt ceiling debacle, cajolery is out as far as Republicans in the House are concerned. They will not countenance anything that might help burnish President Obama’s image with the public, even if it happens to be best for the country.
This leaves shame, which is also tricky because it is a concept that is foreign to many on the far right (“You lie!”). What the president can do, though, is to propose a jobs program that is so sweeping, so grandiose, and so packed with tax cut goodies that the public will be persuaded of its effectiveness if it’s given a chance, and Republicans will be exposed as the obstructionists they are for turning down something they mostly agree with. If the average voter can be convinced that right-wing orthodoxy is the one thing standing between him or her and getting a job, then Obama has a chance.
Success and final passage will then rely on the post-speech sales pitch to the American people, which is something we know Obama is good at, otherwise he wouldn’t be working this thankless, dead-end job in the first place.