The best, and ultimately only constructive approach to analyzing an administration's policies is through primary sourcing: Read or watch remarks from public officials or official documents directly and analyze them in context, rather than relying upon the interpretations of secondary, tertiary, etc. commentators. Criticism that isn't strictly about public perception or the lack of action on something should be traceable back to an actual statement or document by the officials being criticized, with the occasional exception of investigative journalist work depending on clandestine information. This way we avoid the formation of closed epistemic bubbles based on interpretations of interpretations of interpretations, etc.
Moreover, criticism based on an absence should definable by noting what is present, so that we avoid the trap of just assuming that lack of coverage equals lack of action. You can say, "This is what they are doing, but they should be doing more of...so and so," rather than asserting absence without qualification. Criticizing absence as a qualification on a statement of presence demonstrates knowledge of policy whereas the mere assertion of absence may simply indicate lack of publicity or attention to that publicity.
Let's look at some examples of these two principles, primary sourcing and absence-as-qualification. Suppose a reporter asked the President what he thought of Ray Kelly in the context of the search for a new DHS director, and the President praised Kelly without specifically committing to him as a candidate for the job. A primary-sourced criticism would recognize the context of the statement, and could criticize the praise of Kelly's existing job without attempting to construct any sort of narrative out of it. Criticizing Ray Kelly's prior performance would still serve to reduce the hypothetical possibility of his running DHS, but would not create any false or misleading narratives about what the President has said.
A contrary example would be a blogger who posts an angry response to the story, saying that it's outrageous the President would be considering Ray Kelly for DHS. This response does not have its facts straight, and misinforms the reader. And that's just the beginning of the problems that arise from it, because some readers may be inclined to take it one step further and deduce more from it than even that blogger is willing to say. For instance, if Ray Kelly is being considered, then the President must support racial profiling - a claim that's only possible if one were not aware of the Justice Department's efforts to fight it, and if one were so inclined to dismiss everything the President has ever said on the subject.
So instead of criticizing the President for giving undeserved praise, the criticism may now focus on something that is not only not so - that Ray Kelly is being floated for DHS by the President - but something even further, that is preposterous on its face - that he supports racial profiling. No one along the line needs to be actively seeking to destroy the President, but because no one steps back and examines what's being said critically, it just proceeds into irrational and unhelpful territory. So reality-based criticism requires either primary sources or critical thinking in examining secondary or tertiary ones.
Now consider some examples of the absence-as-qualification approach. Say I don't think the President is doing enough on Subject X. First of all, why am I focused on the President in the first place? Have I looked at Congress and thought about where the breakdown in the process is occurring that's resulting in the negative situation, or am I just unconsciously focusing on the President because he's more prominent than hundreds of less recognizable politicians? So that's the first question to ask.
Then the second question is, do I think he personally isn't doing enough, or that appointees aren't doing enough? We've all heard "the buck stops here," but that's a slogan, not a civics lesson. Real institutions are made up of many people and authority is never absolute. So the question is, are the appointees not doing enough, is the President not doing enough, or are both not doing enough? If an appointee is not doing enough, is their performance poor enough that they should be fired? If not, what role do you think the President should be playing in changing that appointee's behavior? Same question for the other two possibilities.
Thirdly, why exactly do I think the administration isn't doing enough on Subject X? Is it because news sources I listen to aren't reporting on it, because another commentator has asserted that they aren't, or is it because I follow the issue closely through primary sources and have not seen what I want to see in the remarks and specific policies of these institutions and leaders? If it's because it's not getting coverage, then that is the only thing to be criticized on that basis - that the administration isn't getting it out there, not that they're not doing great things. But that, of course, has to be qualified by the recognition that the White House Press Office doesn't dictate media coverage (unless they're Republicans, of course, because then they have a friendly relationship with the ownership). In other words, there's not a lot to go on if that's the basis.
If the reason I think the administration isn't doing enough is because some other blogger said so, well, the same standards of logic apply to that blogger as to me, so if all they're doing is responding to lack of coverage or going by what a third commentator said, that's no different. It's just commutative fallacy. So exercise critical thinking: Are the key claims sourced? Are the sources credible? Does the content in the source justify the claims being made about it? Are there absolute primary sources that can determine exactly what is and is not the case - e.g., a video of a press conference? Do the claims agree with that material? Do they leap to conclusions not supported by it? Do they directly contradict it? Etc.
And if the reason I think they're not doing enough is because I'm familiar with what they are doing, then I need to explain that. If Subject X is clean energy, then I need to talk about the federal government's clean energy programs so that I can talk about what it is they don't do. If Subject X is the social safety net, I need to be conversant in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and various other programs on various levels of government and discuss what's going on with them rather than just repeating some vague impression I get from commentators about what's going on or some unsubstantiated assertions about it. Perfect knowledge is neither required nor possible, obviously, but proficient understanding of programs and their administration is worth cultivating.
Most importantly, apply standards of evidence consistently. If all it takes to believe X is a mere assertion, by what logic or principle do you demand absolute proof of the contrary to discard X? In other words, whatever level of evidence it took to believe something, that's the level of evidence that should be reasonable to stop believing it. Reality-based politics does not hold any set of claims to be ends in themselves requiring a greater (or infinite) level of evidence to abandon than to believe - it is not a faith-based exercise.
Occam's Razor is indispensable to principled progressivism, as is a sense of proportionality in understanding how government works. The unelected Republican House majority is why we haven't had any economically stimulative legislation in two years, just as Senate Republicans are why we can't pass gun control supported by 90% of Americans. The Legislative is the branch where laws originate, and the legitimate role of a President is basically a gatekeeper, cheerleader, and top-level implementer for that process, so we know what we have to do to move forward - win in 2014.
Gravity pulls things down, and in politics it pulls them rightward because that's the nature of the right-wing political viewpoint: Entropic. Degenerate. Progress is only made through careful appreciation of the facts of a situation and thoughtful approaches to changing it pursued with diligent work. There's no secret formula for democracy, no spiritual mystery - it's just work, honesty, and being more concerned with making things better than with rationalizing why they're bad.
12:28 PM PT: Wow. Somebody HR'd this.