Regular readers will not be surprised that I heartily endorse Kevin Drum's "Barack Obama: President, Not King."
I'd only mention that whereas Drum puts the blame for liberal disappointment on the Democratic Party, not Obama, I'd push a bit harder on that. Suppose you're a liberal and live in, oh, Henry Waxman's district. Your Member of the House, both your Senators, and your president all did what you wanted; they couldn't do more not because of the Democratic Party per se, but because of Ben Nelson, and Evan Bayh, and Joe Lieberman, and a handful of others in the House and Senate.
Moreover, those Democrats didn't do what you wanted, in many cases, because they honestly disagreed with what you want. And, in many cases (not Connecticut, of course), that's because politicians with your views would be hard to elect in those places.
In other words, it's not the president's fault, or the party's fault, or the structure of the government's fault: it's the reality of living in a democracy with 300 million other people.
That's a first pass at these issues. One direction to take it from there is to think about the various good and bad moves that Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the other party leaders have made in the last two years: see for example Ezra Klein's assessment of Obama as poker player, or Drum's similar critique of the president. There's nothing at all wrong with that at all (it's one of the things that I do, too; I think Harry Reid has done several things well, but should have been more creative in response to GOP tactics).
But for this post, I want to go in another direction, which is to directly address those, like Drum's correspondent, who think of themselves as "over" Barack Obama, or "nearly there." (I'm writing this as if to liberals, since it's responding to Drum's reader, but it fits for conservatives or anyone else, too; just edit as needed).
What I'd say to them is: Barack Obama is not a king, and you are not a subject. You are a citizen. Act like it. American political parties are extremely permeable: get active. If things don't go your way, get more active. If you've been active, stay in the game. Expect disappointments -- you are one of 300 million, and many of them disagree with you.
Democracy, real democracy, is hard. I've said this before...democracy involves, as Bonnie Honig says, the "inescapability of conflict." Full citizenship, then, means accepting that you're never going to really get your way. You're never going to have the perfect politicians to support. You're never going to have party leaders who "really" represent you in the sense of always doing what you want. Full citizenship means continuing on, nevertheless, because you may be able to get somewhat less partial success if you keep working.
And don't kid yourself -- the other side doesn't get what they want, either. Liberals are frustrated now, and conservatives excited by the results of the recent elections -- but ask any conservative if they're happy about public policy over the last any number of years, and you'll find that George W. Bush wasn't really a conservative, and Trent Lott wasn't really a conservative, and Tom DeLay betrayed conservatives, and Newt Gingrich, and if they're old enough, Ronald Reagan.
It's a fundamental misunderstanding of democracy to believe that one can ever fully win, just as it's an illusion that the other side has ever fully achieved what it wants.
Yes, that's even more the case in a Madisonian system, but it's really fundamental to any kind of democracy. It's not a function of particular institutions. It's a consequence of, well, the human condition, of our fundamental plurality and differences, if I want to go and get all Arendtian on everyone.
So what do citizens do? They don't mope about whether the president they worked so hard to elect is who they hoped he'd be; they keep working. They make choices: they decide whether to put their efforts into House races, Senate contests, the next presidential election, pressure on marginal Members of Congress to vote the "right" way right now. Even knowing the next round will yield its share of disappointments and frustrations.
Citizens, that is, learn what they need to know, and then make choices and act. And win or lose, and then keep acting.
Look, I perfectly well understand the incentives involved, and the bitter frustrations, too. From one type of social science perspective, it's not exactly a surprise that liberals disengaged after the 2008 election and are now upset that many of the things they wanted didn't happen, just as it's no surprise that conservatives who sort of overlooked a lot of things George W. Bush and other Republicans were doing in the last decade are hypersensitive to what Democrats do now.
But from another perspective, you don't have to do that. You can engage. You can get your friends who chose not to vote in 2010 to return to the polling place in 2012. You can start volunteering for a candidate; you can give volunteer time or (if you have it) money to a primary challenger you think makes sense (which means, if you're a liberal, eagerly taking on a Joe Lieberman in liberal Connecticut, but thinking hard about whether to challenge a Ben Nelson in Republican Nebraska -- and I can't say what the correct choice is: politics is hard). You can, if you're a liberal, try to win back the House seats the Democrats just lost, even knowing that you won't be ushering in anything better than the 111th Congress if you manage to do it, because you know that the 111th, for all the frustration, was still a hell of a lot better for you than the 112th will be.
Presidents aren't kings, and if you treat them as if they are, you're behaving as a subject. Don't do it. Learn how your government works, and act as a citizen.