It will be unlikely that we'll ever have the kind of leverage we had in 2008, with two candidates neck and neck for the nomination up to the very end and a totally pathetic opposition, unfortunately. But if liberals had resisted the urge to turn that primary into a season of American Idol, there might have been a chance to shape the administration in ways that would be difficult for him/her to escape.On the contrary, liberals had an enormous effect on the policy debate during the Democratic Presidential Primary. The health care plans of John Edwards in 2008, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton were all dramatically to the left of the proposals from John Edwards in 2004, John Kerry, and Howard Dean, none of whom attempted to guarantee health care coverage to all Americans. Likewise, all major candidates signed on to some form of cap-and-trade legislation, something that didn't happen during the previous primaries. The Professional LeftTM ought to be proud of its accomplishments during the most recent Presidential cycle.
The reasons that the Liberal Dream have yet to be enacted stem from the composition of Congress more than. Cap-and-trade failed because even with sixty Democratic Senators, a large number of coal state Democrats were hesitant to enact the House bill into law. The fact that the 112th Congress is producing more conservative policy outcomes than the 111th Congress—which almost certainly produced the most liberal legislation since the late Johnson Administration—was baked into the cake on Election day in 2010. It's true that Republicans' "you will always receive zero votes that support even part of the President's agenda" attitude represents a new legislative strategy, but surely that can't be due to fact that Barack Obama is President instead of Hillary Clinton, nor that Obama promised to enact single payer through executive fiat during the primaries.
It's possible that a President who was less interested in early conciliatory gestures would be producing less conservative outcomes than Obama. And the administration's tone concedes the Republican worldview in a way that drives me crazy, rather than arguing for first-best policy results and then bending policy to political necessities. But the major driver of the craptacular debate we're getting now is the composition of Congress, not the personality traits of the President. If you want somewhere to focus your energies, start there.