Frustrated by his inability to get Congress to implement his agenda, President Barack Obama has opted for a go-it-alone strategy, vowing to use his executive powers "whenever and wherever" necessary to enact his program.
Obama's State of the Union address was long on populist rhetoric -- "Give America a raise" -- that drew cheers from Democrats while Republicans sat stone-faced. While it may have energized his base, it did nothing to move those arrayed against him. His pledge to opt for unilateral action underscores the polarization that has effectively paralyzed his presidency just one year into his second term.
The president vowed to use executive orders to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers -- which is a far cry from raising the minimum wage for all workers, which takes congressional action -- and make it easier for millions of low-income people to save for retirement, which seems innocuous.
"America does not stand still, and neither will I," Obama vowed. Bypassing Congress and opting for action with the stroke of a pen may be an alternative to partisan gridlock, but executive action won't accomplish many of the larger goals on the president's second-term agenda, such as immigration reform. That will take cooperation and compromise with Republicans, who appear to be in no mood for any give-and-take with the president.
Coming off a lost year -- 2013 saw virtually no progress on any of the major items on Obama's agenda -- and heading into an election year that will determine the makeup of Congress for the rest of his term, the president has opted for a strategy that apparently writes off attempts at compromise in favor of executive action and taking his case directly to the people. That's a gamble, and Obama may be banking on political capital that he lacks.
The change in tactics also sends a signal that the White House realizes that it has failed on its promises to bring change to Washington and that even with a solid second-term win in 2012, the president's agenda remains stymied on Capitol Hill.
Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," "We're just not going to sit around and wait for the Congress if they choose not to act."
As Barack Obama heads into the final quarter of his Presidency, with an eye on his place in history, much of his agenda remains unrealized. Whether going it alone will change that remains to be seen.