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Saturday, December 10, 2016

WASHINGTON — Republicans are unhappy that President Obama is invoking his executive powers to govern in the face of a do-nothing-in-2014 House of Representatives. To hear them talk, you would think our chief executive is modeling himself on the late Hugo Chávez and wants to seize dictatorial control.

This, of course, is nonsense. In fact, Obama has in many ways been less aggressive in his use of executive authority than his predecessors.

Take the matter of executive orders. According to the American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Obama issued 147 executive orders in his first term. This compares with 173 in George W. Bush’s first term, 200 in Bill Clinton’s, 213 in Ronald Reagan’s, and 320 in Jimmy Carter’s single term in office. By this standard, Obama is not doing a very good job if he wants to be a tyrant.

Moreover, since getting major bills through the House is about as likely as an equatorial country dominating the Winter Olympics, Obama’s supposedly aggressive measures have been rather restrained initiatives to achieve widely shared goals. He has accomplished as much through the White House’s ability to convene and persuade as through command.

Can anyone be upset that he secured $750 million in commitments from tech companies to bring high-speed Internet to more classrooms? He’s combining that with $2 billion from service fees paid to the Federal Communications Commission to connect 15,000 schools and 20 million students. Who could oppose this? Perhaps those who think he’ll deploy this new capacity to pump left-wing propaganda to impressionable young people.

Or take his National Network for Manufacturing Innovation made up of institutes around the country that seek “to bridge the gap between basic research and product development.” Companies, universities, community colleges and federal agencies “co-invest” in R&D, education and training. Unless you see this as a subtle path to socialism, what’s wrong with a pro-business partnership to create more manufacturing jobs?

Oh yes, and he’s making the federal government a better employer by raising the minimum wage for those who work for its contractors. He’s also enlisted colleges and universities to take new steps to recruit low-income students. Leviathan’s heavy hand is nowhere to be seen.

Which brings us to the real issue: It’s not that Obama is trying to do too much. It’s that he needs to think bigger.

One of the disappointments of the Obama presidency is his failure to lead a thoroughgoing reform of the way the federal government works and to launch an inspiring campaign to bring fresh talent to its ranks.