Ezra does some nice policy work but this post on the paradox of presidential leadership is wrong on its face and completely ignores the obvious conclusion.
That a president taking a position polarizes that position making it not likely to pass (without lots of compromising away from it) is completely sensible. So too is it completely sensible that the power of persuasion is greater for the president than it is for pretty much anyone else. These are not in conflict. In fact they point to what should be the most obvious conclusion, and one that many people have complained that Obama really doesn't seem to get: the president should argue and persuade strongly, not for a compromise position, but for a position that is furthest away from his/her opposition as possible.
When Obama was trying to get health care done he should have been selling the American public hard on single payer, medicare for everyone, not exchanges and public options. That pulls the debate back to the center and compromise becomes easier for both parties. As it was, he staked out his position as the one between single payer and being rich and so made the conservative/Republican heath care plan that we ended up with seem like a liberal/Democratic plan to the majority of the American public.
The same was true of the stimulus, the same was true with the budget, the same is true now with the debt limit/deficit reduction debacle.
If Obama had staked his position out as an actual Democratic, liberal position, then it would not be nearly as hard for a compromise bill to get through. Democrats could say they still got some extra revenue from the wealthy, Republicans could say that they saved tax cuts for the middle class and cut government spending drastically. Voters would see Obama presiding over a compromise, and his base (the people he NEEDS to turn out if he wants to win reelection) would see him fighting for strong Democratic principles. (Incedentally, the GOP base would see them fighting as well...it really would be win-win, but it requires the president to stake his position as a liberal one, not as the compromise he truly seems to seek.)
If, in that scenario, the GOP still refused to grant anything, then the perception of them as intransigent and destructive to the country would be even stronger.