President Obama, like all presidents, often says he “wants” or is even “fighting” for something, but in fact puts no real effort into actually making it happen. It could be he doesn’t want to spend political capital because he thinks it is a lost cause, thinks it is fairly unimportant, or even doesn’t really want it, but thinks it is smart politics to pretend he does.

That is why it is important to recognize what a president acting as a “fierce advocate” actually looks like so you can distinguish the real thing from empty rhetoric. We are seeing a what a real full-court press from the administration is when it comes to the START treaty.

This is what fierce advocacy on an issue looks like from the White House: making the case to the public through a series of important surrogates, and heavy private lobbying of individual members of Congress.

Because this is a treaty, the president’s room to maneuver is constrained on this issue by the Constitution, but on most other issues, a president can enhance his push with threats. It can be small, like promising to kill a senator’s pet project, or as sweeping as threats to use executive orders to get the same result, push it through with reconciliation, or even call for the nuclear option to eliminate the filibuster, as George W. Bush did with some of his judicial nominees.

If you see the administration using this multi-pronged, public and private push on an issue, you can be confident it is something the president really wants to make it happen. If you don’t see this across-the-board push from the White House, you know the President’s commitment to the issue is soft at best, and, at worst, he is really signaling to the people that matter that his promises are empty rhetoric he doesn’t want to see fulfilled.

Compare the White House action on START with the “if there is time” approach to DADT. Th latter is not fierce advocacy.