Yesterday, Katrina vanden Heuvel weighed in. While overall I tend to agree with Chait, I found that there were also some aspects of what vanden Heuvel said that I agree with. Most notably, we ARE living in times that require transformational change and no, the Republicans don't always march in lock-step either (the current Romney/not-Romney primary battle should be enough evidence of that).
Its really vandel Heuvel's last point where I part ways with her completely.
We need a transformational presidency, able to smash the failed, entrenched and corrupt politics of the center. That standard isn’t some perfectionism perennially demanded by disappointed liberals. It is required by the times.
I'd love to have the opportunity to ask her to give me an example of one time in our nation's history when a presidency was transformational. The two instances most people site are the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
Many people have written great articles explaining the complexities of the FDR years. I will simply site one way in which it wasn't simply the President during those years who contributed to the transformational change that happened. The Congress that basically passed the New Deal in 1935 consisted of an overwhelming Democratic majority in both houses...Senate 72/23 and House 332/103. So you see, it was more than the President who was transformational. As Ezra Klein points out:
Still, the basic truths of the period remain: By the time Roosevelt took the presidency, the Great Depression had done so much damage that Congress was ready to do something, anything, to end it. At times, FDR harnessed that energy in service of his agenda. At other times, Congress forced him to go further than he had intended.
When it comes to Ronald Reagan's presidency, you have to consider the national conservative movement that essentially started in 1964 with the defeat of Goldwater and passage of the Civil Rights Act. The election of Reagan in 1980 was the completion of that 16 year transformation of the Republican Party (coming also on the heels of the mobilization of the religious right in the 70's).
I suppose that one might call the Lincoln presidency transformational. But both the emerging split between the North and South and the massive changes in our politics since those days makes it only instructive in the very broadest sense.
So I would suggest that this country has never experienced transformational change simply as the result of a President. To put that expectation on Barack Obama (especially given the vitriolic opposition he has faced) is not only unreasonable, but to many it also smacks of racism.
UPDATE: Steve Benen takes up this topic and points out how it gives the Republicans and "assist" in their sabotage efforts.
...this actually creates an incentive for Republicans to be even more irresponsible — if GOP officials believe the public will blame the president for the breakdown of the American political process, even if it’s not Obama’s fault, Republicans will keep up their destructive tactics. The unstated goal is to put a simple-but-misguided concept in voters’ minds: Washington stinks, Obama’s the president, we want a better Washington, so must need a new president.