You helped elect an untested presidential candidate, a man almost as liberal as you. He promised to heal the oceans, make health care an inalienable right, and transform Washington's toxic culture. You mocked Republicans, independents, and squishy Democrats who had the audacity to criticize your guy, much less doubt the inevitability of his victory. President Obama won — twice — and then didn't live up to anybody's expectations, including his own.
What do you do? Well, if you're Ezra Klein and a coterie of inflexibly progressive pundits, you repurpose an attack used against President George W. Bush's bombastic approach to geopolitics. You call anybody who questions Obama's leadership style a Green Lanternist. In a post for Vox stretching beyond 2,500 words, Klein makes his case against Obama critics.
"Presidents consistently overpromise and underdeliver," he begins, a fair start. Surely, the editor-in-chief of Vox is going to make the obvious point that presidents and presidential candidates should know enough about the political process (including the limits on the executive branch) to avoid such a breach of trust.
Klein is a data guy. He must know that the public's faith in government and politics is on a decades-long slide, a dangerous trend due in no small part to the fact that candidates make promises they know they can't keep. In Washington, we call it pandering. In the rest of the country, it's called a lie. Klein yawns.
What they need to say to get elected far outpaces what they can actually do in office. President Obama is a perfect example. His 2008 campaign didn't just promise health care reform, a stimulus bill, and financial regulation. It also promised a cap-and-trade bill to limit carbon emissions, comprehensive immigration reform, gun control, and much more. His presidency, he said, would be change American could believe in. But it's clear now that much of the change he promised isn't going to happen — in large part because he doesn't have the power to make it happen.
Now, wait. A Harvard-trained lawyer and constitutional scholar like Obama didn't stumble into the 2008 presidential campaign unaware of the balance of powers, the polarization of politics, the rightward march of the GOP, and other structural limits on the presidency. He made those promises because he thought those goals were neither unreasonable nor unattainable. Either that, or he was lying.