This last summer, President Obama had an epiphany: Republicans are not going to negotiate with him. One might say that this realization came a little late.
It doesn’t take a blind Obotic follower to point out that the White House probably had some inkling that the Tea Party caucus was not going to compromise after the 2010 election. If you’re faced with an opponent like that, and a media environment where pretty much any crazy utterance from that opponent is taken as an expression of gravitas, one strategy is to simply go through the motions of seeking compromise. Obama could have spent the first part of 2011 escalating the anti-Tea Party rhetoric, or he could have done what he did, which was to try to seek compromise at every turn. By doing the latter, he appeared to be the reasonable person in the room, and now he has the benefit that his new, harder-edged rhetoric is placed in the context of his earlier, softer approach.
So, it’s hard for his opponents to credibly claim that Obama is being his usual uncompromising self. I’m sure the 27 percenters will buy that, but they’ll buy anything. The question is what the soft Republicans and independents will buy, since they’re the ones he’s trying to convince.
This approach does have some pitfalls (for example, you look weak doing it). But I don’t think that it came entirely out of naivete, which appears to be the conventional wisdom. Obama has a history of reacting too slowly for his allies’ taste, and maybe that will be judged as a weakness in hindsight, but I think he’s pursuing a strategy, not being a bumpkin.