Earlier this week, I mocked liberals who attribute the Obama administration's domestic policy compromises/failures to a lack of presidential will. If only Obama had tried harder, they say, he could have passed the public option, expanded Medicare, etc.
As I've argued, this claim, which I call the Green Lantern theory of the presidencyTM, fails as a description of political reality. But it's also worth noting that this sort of president-centric perspective has real costs both for the political movements that promote it and for the country.
In the short term, the liberal elites who publicly blame Obama rather than the structure of Congress for the loss of the public option are fostering long-term disappointment that will depress Democratic turnout and enthusiasm in 2010 and 2012. Kos, Jane Hamsher, Move On, and Congressional liberals can certainly put more pressure on Obama than, say, Joe Lieberman, but they are poisoning the well for their own movement in a way that we didn't observe among conservatives during, say, the debate over the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.
Over the long term, Green Lantern-ism promotes cynicism and distrust in the political system. Who wouldn't feel betrayed if they thought that the president could achieve an important goal but wasn't willing to try hard enough to get it? Unfortunately, the press does an exceptionally poor job of explaining the structural constraints that presidents face. We shouldn't be surprised by this failure -- journalists tend to lack detailed knowledge of the legislative process and have strong commercial incentives to cover politics as a dramatic narrative -- but it means that the Green Lantern message goes largely unchecked.