At work in this liberal panic are two intellectual vices, and one legitimate fear. The first vice is the worship of presidential power: the belief that any problem, any crisis, can be swiftly solved by a strong government, and particularly a strong executive. A gushing oil well, a recalcitrant Congress, a public that’s grown weary of grand ambitions — all of these challenges could be mastered, Obama’s leftward critics seem to imagine, if only he were bolder or angrier, or maybe just more determined.
This vice isn’t confined to liberals: you can see it at work when foreign policy hawks suggest that mere presidential “toughness” is the key to undoing Iran’s clerical regime, or disarming North Korea. But it runs deepest among progressives. When Rachel Maddow fantasized last week about how Obama should simply dictate energy legislation to a submissive Congress, she was unconsciously echoing midcentury liberal theoreticians of the presidency like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who often wrote as if a Franklin Roosevelt or a John F. Kennedy could run the country by fiat. (They couldn’t.)
For those who aren't familiar with the Green Lantern Theory of the PresidencyTM, here's my original definition:
During the Bush years, [Matthew] Yglesias coined the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics* to mock conservatives who believed that "[t]he only thing limiting us is a lack of willpower" in foreign policy. What he identifies here is nothing less than a Green Lantern theory of the presidency in which all domestic policy compromises are attributed to a lack of presidential will. And, like the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics, this view is nonfalsifiable. Rather than learning from, say, the stimulus vote that Obama faces severe constraints in the Senate, liberal GL proponents have created a narrative in which all failure and compromise is the result of a lack of presidential willpower. (Hamsher, for instance, claims that "The failure to establish a public option to control medical costs and increase competition is President Obama’s failure alone.") It's a fantasy world...
* Here's Yglesias explaining the Green Lantern reference:
[T]he Green Lantern Corps is a sort of interstellar peacekeeping force set up by the Guardians of Oa to maintain the peace and defend justice. It recruits members from all sorts of different species and equips them with the most powerful weapon in the universe, the power ring.
...[The ring] lets its bearer generate streams of green energy that can take on all kinds of shapes. The important point is that, when fully charged what the ring can do is limited only by the stipulation that it create green stuff and by the user's combination of will and imagination. Consequently, the main criterion for becoming a Green Lantern is that you need to be a person capable of "overcoming fear" which allows you to unleash the ring's full capacities...