Hit & Run

Peter Suderman on Why American Politics Doesn't Do Big Things



In January 2011, when President Obama closed out his State of the Union address with a double invocation of the phrase, "we do big things," it seemed more than plausible. It seemed obviously true. During the previous two years, Congress had passed, and Obama had signed, the biggest fiscal stimulus in history, a far-reaching overhaul of financial sector regulation that included the creation of a new federal agency, and a health care law intended to reform the insurance market and bring the nation closer than ever to universal coverage. Obama's declaration wasn't so much a promise as a boast of progress already made; under his watch, the federal government wasn't merely going to do big things—it had already done them. But nearly three years later, writes Reason Senior Editor Peter Suderman, the federal government's capacity for expansive action looks far more in doubt.