Obama is actually in very much the same position as Roosevelt - he has policies he wants to accomplish, and a group out there who he can get to raise a fuss and make him do it. It's just that that group isn't leftists, it's the Tea Party.
Laurence O'Donnell on MSNBC has been putting forward a theory about Obama's plans here, which is premised on the idea that Obama thinks the Republicans are so opposed to him, they'll reject anything he offers, so he can make himself look "reasonable" and "bipartisan" by conceding anything at all, without having to actually go through with it. This is the most plausible explanation I've heard for what Obama thinks he's doing, but it still isn't all that plausible; it seems to depend on being able to predict with total accuracy exactly how the Republicans are going to screw themselves: not so much "12-dimensional chess" as a Xanatos Roulette: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/XanatosRoulette --
"Why must man's vocation always be to distinguish
himself from animals?" http://blog.voyou.org/ -- Baudrillard