It gets better?

<i>Heeere’s</i> nothing!

Heeere’s nothing!

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

There’s the scene in the movie As Good as It Gets where Jack Nicholson waits at a psychologist’s office, in a room ostensibly filled with people in psychic pain awaiting relief, or hoping for some relief in the future.

Nicholson surveys the patients as they sit in their chairs, staring at magazines, and utters the movie’s title, and its best line: “What if this is as good as it gets?”

That’s what its like to be a progressive in America, surveying Barack Obama’s presidency. Psychic pain. Hopes for the best. And the sense that, when it comes to presidential politics, the progressive agenda remains so far from the mainstream of this, really, very conservative country that we will forever be in the waiting room of real change. What if this, the Obama presidency, is as good as it gets? And yet.

Online magazine Slate’s Brian Palmer surveyed the Obama presidency, asking, “Are we greener than we were four years ago?” There’s no easy answer, but Palmer notes that emissions of greenhouse gases have declined (probably a temporary dip), wind and solar power capacity has increased, fuel-economy standards for cars have risen. President Obama advised federal agencies involved in land stewardship “to consider the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change … a meaningful [development when compared] to his predecessor.” Obama fought back President George W. Bush’s efforts to encourage logging, mining and road building in national forests. And, “by virtually any measure, America’s air is cleaner today than four years ago.”

True, as Al Gore has stated, Obama has missed important opportunities to insist on “bold action on climate change,” not the least of which was Obama’s abandonment of cap and trade in the Senate. Still, all that ain’t nothing.

Compare Obama’s accomplishments with the anti-environmental initiatives of Congress. Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey calculate that House Republicans have voted 110 times in 2011 to “stop or undermine” environmental protections. The Natural Resources Defense Council calls it “the most anti-environment House of Representatives” in U.S. history. According to Time magazine, 40 “knee-jerk anti-environmentalist” riders were added to the debt-ceiling legislation.

And all that is, in no way, as good as it gets. And so we sit, in the waiting room. Wondering what’s next.