Not since Jimmy Carter changed the part in his hair has a president appeared as feckless as Barack Obama. In his desire to achieve a political El Dorado, he has pursued with a passion the mythical Holy Grail called bipartisanship. Republicans have no intention of cooperating with the president and they have made that clear. If insanity is defined by doing the same thing time after time, then Obama has gone politically off his rocker.
However as Ronald Reagan once said of the Great Society such a state of flux could not be achieved without "teamwork." Obama has been given few options by liberals. Rachel Maddow advocates going back to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Projects administration. Chris Matthews revels in rebuilding infrastructure and dreams of a sort of militarized progressivism that stresses service. Ed Schultz wants confrontation between Obama and those who would threaten labor unions. In short they want to somehow recreate the mid-1930s in the most specific fashion. Or at least what they thought Franklin Roosevelt did.
Roosevelt was a pragmatist, bobbing and weaving to defeat his opponent. Certainly he was not beyond confrontation, but he learned bitterly after the 1937 attempt to expand the Supreme Court that constant bickering was costly. He trimmed some of the New Deal and winked and nudged at southern textile owners when they crushed strikes without federal interference. While the National Association of Manufactureres condemned him, FDR parleyed with General Motors and big steel. They accepted unions, they could afford the gesture.
Moreover, the big work projects were regarded even by Roosevelt as temporary. Very ethically he did not count these workers as employed - a fact not mentioned by anti-New Deal historians when pointing out high unemployment rates in the late 1930a. But I doublt FDR would advocate such a course in 2011.
Give Obama some credit, he does not live in a fantasy world except in his belief that Republicans will cut him some slack. Such large infrastructure projects do not take into account America's present workforce. Most unemployed in the last few years do not resemble those of the Great Depression. They are not burly factory workers or fit farmers, most are white collar employees in their late 40s and early 50s who seldom have had to pick up anything heavier than a pencil. Moreover outside the highways are we going to create dams for no reason. You may be able to create demand where there is a need, but you simply cannot command it so where none exist.
What Obama might try is a little dose of old style Republican policies. For the new Tea Party, libertarian, social conservative coalition, big business represents their soft under belly. Perhaps instead of a jobs bill offer a targeted tax cut that will work to stimulate the economy and perhaps overtime raise revenues to address the deficit. Such a supply side solution would place anti-Obama Republicans on the defensive. As well for infrastructure, go the Eisenhower route and propose a federal-highway restoration act which will call for mass improvements. Instead of CCC they make the process competitive and dangle out many carrots to construction companies. No doubt this will be change they will believe in. Jobs will be produced and profits made through a public-private partnership.
On energy Obama could do much the same. The old environmental shibboleths will simply have to be shelved temporarily. If the goal is jobs then the old Whig formula might work.
Business progressivism is the greatest antidote to for the far right. Strip away their commercial backers then they are left with their abstract notions of liberty and little else. With nothing more to counter Democrats except throwing yellowed copies of F.A. Hayek "Road to Serfdom" or Ayn Rand "Atlas Shrugged" at them, Obama might gain advantage. But to cravenly respond to every partisan Republican whim with an empty gesture is a sure path to defeat.