Considering the role of the President properly, including the ways in which certain latitudes of movement (i.e., the ability to fulfill campaign promises or advance new agendas) are circumscribed by congressional action, I don't think asserting that he could have done X were it not for Y is really something that falls in the whether-you-believe-it-or-not category. Not everything in reality is there for you to believe or not believe.
The President does not have the power to just operate in total freedom, doing as s/he will with the office. The President can advance an agenda, attempting to build congressional support, but then has to pretty much wait to see what happens. Where that agenda requires Congress to take it up and act, it's rather disingenuous to blame any sitting President.
Moreover, there is a vast disconnect between the structure and operations of government and the People's perception of its structure and operations. When a sizable majority elects a presidential candidate based on the promises made in his/her platform, [I think] they actually expect to see those promises fulfilled. Unfortunately for the voters, the President doesn't really have the actual power to fulfill most (if not all) of them. This is especially frustrating when one sees a historical moment that could be capitalized upon, but is then reacted to with all manner of obstructing and filibustering that the ousted party can muster (such as that of the GOP focused on their goal of making President Obama a one-termer).
So, a new President enters the office, flying into the White House from the lofty heights of the People's surging will, and then Congress decimates the euphoria by thinking that they can go back to politicking and just ignore that the People voted not just for the candidate, but for the candidate's platform. In this way, the onus is really on the President's party to move forward with legislation that embodies the platform. To this end, the Democratic Party did a poor job.
Of course, this cuts both ways and is a difficult reality. Voters expect to see a President's platform promises fulfilled, and rightfully so. But as far as those who didn't vote for the platform are concerned, it's a tough road that carries with it all manner of Tocquevillian tyranny-of-the-majority concerns. Were Romney-Ryan to win, I sure as hell wouldn't want to see the whole of Congress hunkering down to draft legislation that mirrors the GOP platform, because I find most of it to be utterly atrocious and unconscionable (particularly where social issues are concerned). I want Congress to resist rolling us back to pre-1964/1972 America.
Obviously, the President can reverse EOs from prior Presidents. This, I think, would be an excellent thing for Presidents to actually spend significant time doing. Not just the occasional reversal that we typically see. They could be undoing all the damage wrought by their predecessor insofar as the people have voted with a clear enough mandate for his/her platform as it relates to being opposed to certain prior presidential actions. This is why Gitmo is such a sticking issue (to me, at least).
But where the platform consists of items that require legislation, the President is much more hamstrung to fulfill these promises--which then makes for great, but utterly useless, campaign fodder for his adversary in the next election cycle.
All that said, presidential actions that speak louder than words (or platforms), are another matter entirely. President Obama's actions have, on the whole, brought America back into considerably better standing with the world community than it was under Bush. I've seen quite a bit of press in Europe given to discussions about how much more preferable Mr. Obama is to Mr. Romney. There are plenty of presidential actions that have nothing to do with certain legislative actions--and yet the typical election cycle inevitably focuses on presidential actions that relate to legislation instead of fulfilling the job of being the executive.
In regards to your last point, I will say flatly that I do not care about our perception in the eyes of the 'world community', I merely care about the reality of our situation. I think anyone other than Bush would have 'elevated our standing' with the rest of the world much the same as Obama (bonus 'progressive' points if not white or male). I don't consider much of the rest of the world such a great place that we should be concerned about appeasing them with politics they get to muse about and we have to live with.
You really should. The perception the world has of America has a great and fundamental impact on the "reality of our situation". We do not exist in a vacuum, and the worse we appear in the world's eyes, the more difficult things can become.
> I think anyone other than Bush would have 'elevated our standing' with the rest of the world much the same as Obama (bonus 'progressive' points if not white or male).
This is pretty much nonsense. McCain & Palin would not have elevated our standing in global perceptions, but eroded it further instead. World perception does not have to do with whether or not the President is white or male, either. It is built atop the content of ideas and the policies we follow. This is a rather ridiculously cynical view.
> I don't consider much of the rest of the world such a great place that we should be concerned about appeasing them with politics they get to muse about and we have to live with.
Nobody said anything of the sort. Hate to break it to you, though--as much as you don't consider the rest of the world such a great place that is worth being mindful of in our political decision-making, they feel exactly the same way. And they far outnumber us, friend. I think the world would quite unanimously declare the same sentiment:
We don't consider America such a great place that we should be concerned about appeasing it with politics that it gets to muse about and we all have to live with.
In regards to your second statement, you are likely correct. In comparison to McCain/Palin, Obama definitely improved the perception, if not the reality. And I am cynical, because that is the only reasonable response to American politics at this point.
And in regards to the third, so be it. They shouldn't have to worry about how we perceive their leaders. If they do, it's only because we have the world's most powerful military and both Democrat and Republican alike have shown willingness to use it.
But I realize that reality prevents that, so I don't go around saying I can do it.
Are you saying that politicians are so out of touch with reality that they don't know what they promise is impossible?
Or are they being intentionally misleading?
What are you really asking? Do you honestly think Obama didn't want to close Guantanamo?
The fact is, when Ron Paul (or someone like him) says he will close Guantanamo Bay, you know they will close it, by executive order if need be. Obama was content to make an attempt and either change his mind or give up. As such, I have either changed my mind about him or given up. Doesn't really matter which - intentions mean nothing in politics at this point.
> Are you saying that politicians are so out of touch with reality that they don't know what they promise is impossible?
No, I think the vast majority of voters more reliably fall into this camp, actually. Politicians are quite aware that they make unfulfillable promises, knowing much of it is (likely) impossible, but they do it because it has become the expectation in American elections that politicians campaign on issues, and they have to choose issues they think will resound strongly enough with the voting public.
> Or are they being intentionally misleading?
Well, to a certain extent--that extent being to the full degree to which they make unfulfillable promises--yeah, if I was being pedantic about it. I don't think they are completely misleading in that I am certain many candidates do believe strongly in certain issues and are genuinely interested in "fighting" politically for those issues.
With congresspersons, I don't think this problem is as acute as it is with presidents. They make promises that are legislative in nature, and can actually deliver (or be criticized for not delivering).
Unfortunately, campaign promises were adopted into the popular election of presidents, and I think are detrimental for voters and the presidents themselves. Presidents operate within relatively (and sometimes heavily, depending on the political climate) circumscribed spheres of influence. Yes, presidents can (and do) suggest an agenda and even outright offer legislation to Congress, and work to spend political capital to the advancement of that agenda. But, ultimately, Congress has the authority, power, and responsibility where lawmaking that affects the People is concerned. But presidents seem (from the opposite aisle) to receive a lot of unwarranted blame for congressional actions--and then the congressional actors go on to spend many more terms in office.
Where I do believe politicians are being intentionally misleading is on the campaign trail, specifically where contenders take on incumbents and criticize them for mostly legislative actions that are beyond their control, instead of for executive actions. If Mr. Romney wants to attack Mr. Obama for the ways in which he is executing the law, or representing the policies of the nation to other heads of state, etc., okay. But when he attacks the President for things that happened in Congress, it is fundamentally misleading. It leaves people confused about the structure and organization of government, effectively perpetuating the same cycle.