One of the many reasons Obama is able to be so bold—nay, audacious—in his negotiations with Republicans is that he is secure in the knowledge that he will get the help of articles such as this one in that reliable old Democratic shill, the NY Times. Dismiss the Times if you will, but it remains highly respected by a ton of people and influences the beliefs of a host of others.
The paper is shameless and yet oh-so-restrained and dignified in spinning its meme of a meek, kind, conciliatory president who wasn’t tough enough with Republicans in his first term and now is getting just a wee bit bolder (they do everything but say “taking the gloves off”: headline, “Criticized as Weak in Past Talks, Obama Takes Harder Line”)
I’m sure Obama’s base (who would prefer he put the Republicans in front of a firing squad and get it over with) “criticized” Obama as “weak” last term. And there’s no doubt his line now is “harder.” So you see, the Times is merely telling the truth, as usual.
Never mind that former fair-haired boy Bob Woodward has written a book that made it clear the truth was otherwise. Apparently Woodward is only useful to the Times when he advances stories that help The Cause, so this sort of thing can be ignored:
With the president taking charge, though, Obama found that he had little history with members of Congress to draw on. His administration’s early decision to forego bipartisanship for the sake of speed around the stimulus bill was encapsulated by his then-chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel: “We have the votes. F— ‘em,” he’s quoted in the book as saying…
As debt negotiations progressed, Democrats [not just Republicans] complained of being out of the loop, not knowing where the White House stood on major points. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, is described as having a “growing feeling of incredulity” as negotiations meandered.
“The administration didn’t seem to have a strategy. It was unbelievable. There didn’t seem to be any core principles,” Woodward writes in describing Van Hollen’s thinking…
One important moment in the negotiations came when the president scheduled a major address on the nation’s long-term debt crisis. A White House staffer thought to invite House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., along with the other two House Republicans who had served on the Simpson-Bowles debt commission.
The president delivered a blistering address, taking apart the Ryan budget plan as “changing the basic social compact in America.” Ryan left the speech “genuinely ripped,” Woodward writes, feeling that Obama was engaged in “game-on demagoguery” rather than trying to work with the new Republican majority.
“I can’t believe you poisoned the well like that,” Ryan told Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling on his way out of the speech.
But those halcyon days are over. No more Mr. Nice Guy President.
[NOTE: I would like to add that the Republicans are a majority in the House. It's easy to forget that. I'm not an expert on the negotiations between presidents and Congresses in previous administrations, but it seems to me that presidents had at least some perceived need to defer somewhat to the majority to get the votes to pass the legislation. Obama is able to dispense with that because he knows the press will never blame him for being unreasonable, and he plans to blame the Republicans for everything that goes wrong, with the press's cooperation. And he knows the majority of the public will buy this story.
There's another related reason for Obama's stance, and that is that he doesn't seem to much care whether he gets the legislation he says he wants. It would be nice, of course, to win in that respect. But blaming the Republicans for whatever fiscal mess happens to ensue in the absence of an agreement would be just as good a result---perhaps even better---in his eyes.]
[ADDENDUM: Meanwhile, the WaPo works hard on the "detached, in seclusion" Romney theme, as Ann Althouse points out.
How does the WaPo do that? By showing a photo of Romney on a roller coaster, and quoting him as writing to a buddy "who’s having a liver transplant soon: 'I’ll change your bedpan, take you back and forth to treatment.'"