I continue to think that this approach may prove counterproductive in the midterms. The kind of activists who you need to give money, volunteer, and urge their friends to vote like to see the President they worked to elect out there fighting against the bad guys. Watching him sound out where the pivotal member stands, and then leaning on everyone to his left to get in line is demoralizing. As I’ve been saying, I think taking on the banks is a good opportunity to break this dynamic and draw a few lines in the sand. That means an enhanced risk of losing congressional votes, but it would help people stay engaged with the fact that there are real stakes in the coming elections.
The implication is that Obama should take more positions on votes he won't win. It's an interesting question -- what is the optimal rate of presidential losses on legislation? The politics are difficult. Obama doesn't want to antagonize the centrists whose votes he needs to pass his agenda, but at the same time his base doesn't think he is fighting hard enough for the liberal cause.
More generally, it's worth noting that the situation Obama faces is hard to compare with other post-WWII presidents. George W. Bush is the only other case in the sample who had unified control of Congress and an ideologically cohesive party, but it only lasted for part of his first year (i.e. until the Jeffords switch). In addition, the rise of the filibuster as a de facto requirement in recent years increases the importance of the 51st-60th senators, and therefore raises the costs of the president potentially antagonizing them by taking minority positions.