So if there’s little evidence that presidents can shift the public on high-profile issues, why do they continue to believe they can? It’s probably because presidents tend to be charismatic, successful and—to put it politely—confident people, used to persuading others and getting their way. They’re also surrounded by intelligent, ambitious aides who are ready to believe they’ve found the new strategy or technique that will succeed where others have failed. And why does the press play along, anticipating bold results and then carping when they fail to materialize? It may be that, for all our skepticism and readiness to find fault, we’re also hoping for some white knight to come along who will sweep away the hard, grubby, relentless grind of politics.

Greg Marx is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.