Barack Obama will, however, fail by liberal and progressive Democratic standards. Or, more precisely, Obama will succeed by liberal and progressive Democratic standards only because those standards have sunk so low.
It's been a clear tactic of the Republican party for the last 40 years that they're not afraid to lose elections. They know an electoral loss is just a setback, not a defeat. They are defeated only when they have to give ideological ground, and they're willing to sacrifice elections to maintain their ideological ground. The Democratic party, in contrast, constantly cedes ideological ground to win elections.
One critical ideological goal of the Bush administration was to establish absolute executive authority. The Bush administration tortured people not just because they're sadistic bastards — and they tap into the sadistic tendencies in the population — but also to establish that they could torture people and get away with it.
I'm of course pleased that the Obama administration will not torture people. But it's not enough to forswear torture just because Obama himself happens to be a (relatively) nice guy. We must forswear torture because it is illegal and has real consequences and punishments. As we have seen in the last eight years, we cannot always count on having a nice person as president. To borrow a metaphor from Christianity, we should not just uphold the law, we should fear it. (At least today; we'd like to get to where people uphold the law out of rational apprehension of its benefit, but that will take quite a long time. In the meantime, we're stuck with the system of enforcement.) We must not only condemn rape and murder, we must punish rapists and murderers or our condemnation is just empty rhetoric.
Susan Brownmiller makes this point sharply in Men, Women and Rape. When the book was written, rape was prosecuted and punished
It is not enough that Obama's administration will not torture people. If Obama allows those who did in fact torture people to escape without punishment he is just as guilty of suborning torture as the men of the early 20th century (and to some extent many of today's men) were guilty of suborning rape by not prosecuting and punishing rapists as criminals against a woman's person.
It's important to understand that all factions of the bourgeoisie want absolute executive power; the controversy is only over how that power should be exercised and — to some extent — how openly or covertly to establish and maintain that power. Obama would not have received the financial and ideological support of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois press had he not clearly promised to maintain the executive power appropriated by the Bush administration and also promised to exercise that power more effectively and more palatably.
Update: Matt Bors expresses the same idea more succinctly.