Recall the scene from the Poseidon Adventure where the captain sees a tsunami coming toward his giant ocean liner, and orders the ship turned? The ship banks dangerously, but it's much too slow. And, to put it mildly, things don't go well for most on board. The captain can't be blamed for the tsunami, or for trying to avoid having it capsize the ship, but sometimes no matter what you do you are going to be overwhelmed by forces larger than yourself.
President Obama was sworn into office as an economic tsunami hit the nation. After (ahem) bailing out the banks, he proposed a stimulus bill that would arguably help create jobs in an economy that did not appear able to do so. The immediate reaction from the right was either to do nothing, or to cut taxes for the wealthy. Once the stimulus bill passed, many immediately demanded to know why it hadn't worked, even though it hadn't been either funded or implemented. As if the U.S. government, an entity that makes the Poseidon look nimble, can turn on a dime. From the other side, Obama was pressed to do more, and to do it faster - a bigger stimulus bill. But Congress lacked the urgency of the crew of the Poseidon, perhaps because it was primarily other people who needed to be protected from the economic tsunami, and although Obama can be fairly criticized for making a lot of up-front concessions to try to gain Republican support I'm not sure how much more Congress would have given him under any circumstance.
Now we look like we're poised to have, at best, a U-shaped recovery of the employment market. The economy is doing better, but it's still shedding jobs. There are lots of things the government could spend money on, with Bob Herbert (for example) proposing:
A massive long-term campaign to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure - which would put large numbers of people to work establishing the essential industrial platform for a truly 21st-century American economy - has not seriously been considered. Large-scale public-works programs that would reach deep into the inner cities and out to hard-pressed suburban and rural areas have been dismissed as the residue of an ancient, unsophisticated era.But massive, long-term job creation schemes aren't going to fix things this year or next year. There is a need to improve our nation's infrastructure, and there's little question but that the inner cities can't be physically cleaned up (removing abandoned buildings, environmental clean-up, creating viable brownfields for redevelopment etc.) without a massive investment of government money, Good public policy arguments can be made for that type of investment. But to me it's not clear that it's the best way to create new jobs, let alone to create them quickly.
It's easy to suggest that Obama "needs to do more" about one crisis or another - we have any number of huge crises to deal with. The hard part is figuring out what to do - what will work. (And although I'm skeptical of the motives behind Republican opposition to the stimulus bill, sometimes the answer truly is that "nothing will work", "nothing will work fast enough to matter", or "despite the need, that proposal isn't the best way to use our nation's resources.") I'm a proponent of long-term thinking, and of trying to make our society better and more sustainable for the next generation. But I suspect that to create jobs over the short-term, the ideas proposed by Herbert would have had to have been implemented and funded several years ago.