What if...in the course of negotiations in the lame duck Congress tending toward putting a fig leaf on essentially extending all of the Bush income tax cuts, Obama simply said to Republicans and wavering centrist Democrats (and even his compromise-floating veep), "Nope, sorry -- the country can't afford extending the cuts for the wealthiest two percent. Send me a bill extending those cuts, even temporarily, and I'll veto it" -- in which case all the Bush cuts would, of course, sunset. And what if Obama then focused on deploying all the communicative power that he himself has admitted went into remission in the last year to make the case to the public that extending the cuts for the top 2% would dig a deeper deficit hole and crowd out other tax cuts that would be more efficient at creating jobs (mustn't say stimulus now, word's been poisoned...), and that further tax reform would have to be on his terms? The veto and the short time frame makes this quite doable, even if it upsets a good subset of Democrats and sends Republicans into apoplexy. This is a focused, short-term message war that it seems to me the President could win -- a chosen battle to signal that he's back.
UPDATE: I heard most of Obama's press conference today, and it confirm that this is a pipe dream. Principled intransigence is not Obama's way. He had me pounding my steering wheel with frustration as he mouthed the same old same olds about finding common ground with his Republican friends and seemed to acknowledge truth in their claims that the stimulus was "big government" and the health care bill seriously flawed. Could he not find a polite way to say that they had reaped a rich reward for relentlessly lying about his policies?
Well, it's not showdown time yet, but it will be soon enough. Obama, read The Clinton Tapes again.