In a quick discussion of a New York Times article about a pending shift in Federal Reserve culture toward expansionary monetary policies, Matthew Yglesias states:
The President's failure to make these nominations and secure their confirmation in a timely manner will, in retrospect, prove to have been his biggest mistake.
This is certainly possible. The President's failure to change the culture at the Fed by filling these vacancies earlier may well prove to be his biggest mistake. The dire condition of the economy is by far the top political problem facing the Obama administration.
Taking more effective action to reduce, in the short-term, the economic grief facing most Americans would have resulted in a very different political environment than the one Democrats now face. This means a larger stimulus, a foreclosure reduction program that actually reduces foreclosures, tackling Wall Street reform in the Spring of 2009, or appointing a different set of economic advisors (ie, not Summers and Geithner), are all contenders for the biggest mistake, alongside the failure to change the culture of the Fed.
But really, going back further, not allowing Republicans to destroy the filibuster back in 2005 is the biggest mistake made by not only President Obama, but by the Democratic trifecta as a whole (and, I admit, my biggest mistake too). This would have resulted in a wide swatch of changes, including a larger stimulus, the Employee Free Choice Act, a better health bill (in all likelihood, one with a public option, and completed in December), an actual climate / energy bill, a second stimulus, and more. If Democrats had tacked on other changes to Senate rules that sped up the process, such as doing away with unanimous consent, ending debating time after cloture is achieved on nominations, eliminating the two days between filing for cloture and voting on cloture, and restricting quorum calls, then virtually every judicial and administration vacancy would already be filled, as well.
Playing the "what if" game can be painful, because there is no way to go back in time and change what happened. However, it is also useful in that it gives us a roadmap on how to do better in the future. In this case, that means focusing our efforts on changing Senate rules for the next Congress. Right now, it is hard to imagine any more important effort in order to achieve more effective governance.