11/29/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Ready to be Loyal?

Fingers crossed, we're going to win on November 4th. It's possible that Barack Obama will start his term in office with majorities in the House and Senate, and perhaps even a filibuster-proof majority. The likelihood of this is underscored by the shrill, panicky articles about the threat of a Democratic party takeover that have been filling the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and conservative websites.

It's one thing to win, quite another to govern. As a party, we Democrats don't have the best record of acting together in a way that advances our cause. Jimmy Carter had commanding majorities in both Houses, and he was stymied at every turn. Bill Clinton started with a majority in the House and lost that in 1994. He was criticized throughout his term by both Republicans and Democrats, and it's a habit we haven't gotten out of -- the Huffington Post is filled with criticism of someone who stopped being president eight years ago.

You can argue that our past Democratic presidents brought it upon themselves -- that had they lived up to their promises, had they been more competent in one way or another, had they not betrayed their potential - fill in the blank -- their presidencies might have gone differently. But that's not the full story.

The fact is that a president cannot please all of the folks who elect him all the time. It's impossible. Issues are complex and political capital is limited. This will be true going forward, as well. A very diverse coalition of people are voting for Obama, with different sets of core issues, different worldviews, and different assessments of how politics works.

So what happens when President Obama does something, or neglects to do something, that violates your sense of what is right? Or compromises on one of your core issues? Or delays something you think is urgent? Or plays down what you think is important? Or makes alliance with people you can't stand? There will be articulable reasons for the stances he will make, but they may not be reasons you consider valid.

I predict that it won't take long before some people start feeling betrayed, given the scope of problems before our country, and the complexities of ruling. Perhaps President Obama will approve the extension of offshore drilling. Or delay the exit of U.S. troops from Iraq. Or punt on the topic of gay marriage. Or leave NAFTA the way it is. Or indirectly ask African-Americans and other minorities to play down their concerns for a couple of years. Or -- as Clinton did in 1992 -- focus on putting our fiscal house in order rather than expanding social programs. What will you do when President Obama doesn't manage issues the way you want him to? What will you say? What will you believe about him?

Here's what I think you should say: "I support President Obama." And here's what I think you should believe: "I voted for him, so I have confidence that over the long term we'll move the country in the right direction, whatever compromises are required in the short term."

We Democrats -- and in particular we liberal Democrats -- are good at feeling betrayed. The flip side of passionate idealism is whiny victimhood and a sense of being used. This willingness to feel betrayed is something we need to get over.

Politics isn't about betrayal and drama. It's about hard work and keeping our eye on the ball. The ball in this case is methodical, consistent progress on the big issues that affect the most people in the most meaningful ways. We are electing Barack Obama because we believe he is the one who can lead this effort.

So once we elect him, his job is to lead, and part of our job is to be loyal. Loyalty means maintaining confidence when we don't see immediate results. It means being willing to set aside issues that are personally important if they distract from those that our President has set as the core agenda. It means keeping family squabbles behind closed doors and keeping our troops in line.

It means acting like grown-ups. So let's get to it.