The only problem with the president’s lament is its chronology. The failure occurred much earlier, in 2009 and 2010, when Mr. Obama still enjoyed the support of a Democratic-led Congress he needed to move boldly. Despite campaigning for a national infrastructure bank in 2008, he didn’t insist on including it in the 2009 stimulus bill. He didn’t even publicly raise the matter until September 2010, when the midterm election was looming and the chance of enacting new legislation was effectively nil.
This was part of a broader strategic decision to move from his initial focus on averting economic disaster to other concerns—notably, the Affordable Care Act and carbon cap-and-trade legislation. Whatever balance of benefits and opportunity costs the focus on health care may have entailed, the months the House spent in 2009 on an environmental bill that never had a chance in the Senate were a total loss. The exodus of white working-class voters from the Democratic Party contributed to this loss of focus on core economic concerns.