Barack Obama gave a definitive press conference this afternoon — excoriating Republican "hostage takers" and "sanctimonious" Democrats alike, and outlining a clear strategy for centrism. And he kicked it off by getting angry.

This was the question after the election: Would Obama choose to build a compromise coalition around moderates and independents, as advocated by centrist groups like Third Way and the Democratic Leadership Council, or would he double down and fight mercilessly for liberal principles? Yesterday's tax deal was the first indication of where he'd fall, and the Washington Post confirmed it today:

Although his liberal supporters are furious about the decision, President Obama's willingness to extend all of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts is part of what White House officials say is a deliberate strategy: to demonstrate his ability to compromise with Republicans and portray the president as the last reasonable man in a sharply partisan Washington.

The move is based on a political calculation, drawn from his party's midterm defeat, that places a premium on winning back independent voters.

The strategy emerged from hours of post-election meetings among senior administration officials who, after poring over returns, exit polls and midterm history, have determined that the loss of independent voters who supported Democrats in 2008 cost the party dozens of races this year. That conclusion places Obama at odds with many liberal Democrats, who say the midterm losses were the result in part of a political base dispirited by the president's penchant for compromise.

Emphasis ours, so you will remember that line over the next two years! Because unlike the last two years, you'll know where he stands, and how he thinks. He's inviting congressional partisans to take him on. It's to start on this issue, because Senate and House Democrats, too, sound unusually resolute in their opposition to his tax deall. As Democrats, they're probably bluffing, but it could put Republicans in a position that they're really not used to: Being left to find the votes for the multi-hundred billion dollar legislation that Mitch McConnell worked out with Barack Obama, the enemy. (This is all basically hilarious, as long as you stow away your soul.)

So how did he follow up in today's press conference? First, here's how he's talking about his new best friends, the Senate Republicans:

I've said before that I felt that the middle class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high end tax cuts. i think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers. Unless the hostage gets harmed. Then, people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed.

Republicans have already started howling at this, thinking that "don't negotiate with hostage takers" is a not-so-secret reworking of "don't negotiate with terrorists," and they're exactly right. That's what he was saying and it wasn't a mistake.

(Although it may be effective for him, the logic there is wrong. He's saying that he negotiates with hostage-terrorists! Hostage situations are never resolved by giving the hostages the airplanes and mansions and immunity and hookers they want and will always demand more of. Obama will give me what I want if I take hostages? Time to get some hostages and not suffer for that decision at all!)

And in another planned scolding speech at the close, he went after the "sanctimonious" left — they're out of touch with reality and only know what they read in the New York Times from their gentry palaces. They can't accept anything because it would leave them with nothing to whine about. They are stupid hippies who don't follow the North Star of Truth. Obama's played off of the left before, but he's never pushed their buttons quite so... intentionally.

So it looks like the mainstream media will be getting the proudly post-partisan, compromising, centrist, neoliberal president it's always wanted, to win over independents who don't follow politics. But — as confused looks on CNN anchors' faces after the conference — that doesn't come about with both parties arbitrarily putting aside their differences and getting along for the good of the country, riding unicorns around together and leaving a trail of sunshine and rainbows en route to 2012, when both parties will win the presidency. The only way to do it is to open fire on both parties in Congress during gridlock and hope the country sides with you. It's triangulation, and Barack Obama's sticking with it.

[Image via AP]