The fact that the president has very substantial powers in some areas doesn’t change the fact that in terms of domestic policy presidential power is subordinate and highly contingent. The fact that the president can unilaterally decide to bomb Libya doesn’t mean that the president can get 60 Senate votes for single payer health care because he really wants to. And pointing this out doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter whether Barack Obama or Rick Perry sits in the oval office.
This presidency-is-weak excuse is often invoked to justify Obama's failures in all contexts beyond purely domestic policy (e.g., closing Guantanamo and the war in Libya). And all this is to say nothing of the panoply of domestic legislation — including Bush tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, and the Medicare D prescription drug entitlement — that Bush pushed through Congress in his first term, or his virtually unrestrained ability to force Congress to confirm even his most controversial nominees, including when Democrats were in control of Congress. That doesn't seem too weak or ineffectual to me: quite the opposite.
But it was part of the problem that Obama is trying to rectify. I agree with Glenn's view that Obama is far more conservative than many left-liberals want to admit, but part of that conservatism is a disavowal of the kind of ram-it-through authoritarianism of the Bush executive branch. Lemieux rolls his eyes, thinking Greenwald is still missing the point.
(Photo: A poster of US President-elect Barack Obama as Superman is seen on November 5, 2008 on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, California, one day after Obama won the November 4 election. Obama swept to an historic victory as America's first black president, but pleaded for time to heal and transform the superpower as he faces up to the task of forging his promised change. By Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)