But promulgating more executive orders, or convening innovators, isn’t the most influential form of such action available to him. Obama could make a deeper mark by effectively executing two major initiatives he’s already launched: health reform and regulation of the carbon emissions linked to climate change. Apart from immigration, no other domestic priority plausibly within Obama’s reach will affect America’s future—or his legacy—as much as whether he can finish what he’s started on those fronts.
The problem is that implementation of big initiatives hasn’t been exactly a strong suit for Obama, only the third sitting senator ever elected president. “He has the policymaking instincts of a senator more than the administrative instincts of an executive,” says Donald F. Kettl, dean of the University of Maryland public-policy school.
Exhibit A in Kettl’s case is the disastrous rollout of the health care website, which reenergized GOP opposition to the overall plan. No other policy achievement through Obama’s remaining time could rival entrenching Obamacare to the point where even a Republican president and Congress in 2017 could not realistically repeal it. But that would require a persistent attention to administrative detail that expands coverage in a demographically balanced way and builds public support, particularly in the medical community. “He has the potential for a monumental legacy in Obamacare,” Kettl says. “But if he fumbles the administration, he … provides unending opportunities for Republicans, both to attack the program and undermine his party.”