The Williamsburg speech let loose a great gnashing of teeth from those who seem to believe that bipartisan form matters more than substance. But the new tone reflected the very thing about Obama that has won so much notice: He's a pragmatist who takes a method and tries it until it no longer works.
Initially, Obama hoped to win broad Republican support for his stimulus package, but most Republicans preferred to bloody up this new, young president. Obama adjusted. If the GOP wanted a fight, he would not back down.
Some liberal blogs are saying that Obama was wrong to engage Republicans to begin with. I tend to think that that analysis is wrong: he had to do it in good faith to show that he had done it. If it had worked, hey, it worked. If not, well, then he can say he tried, and then win a crucial PR victory in the process. There's also this:
His politics are more neo-Truman than neo-Woodstock, more compatible with It's a Wonderful Life than Easy Rider.
He supports abortion rights but argues for fewer abortions. He supports religious liberty, but thinks religion has a legitimate public role. MTV loyalists love him, but he models a family life more likely to play on the Disney Channel.
I tend to think that this is why Obama resonated so much: even though he really is a historic figure, he's also a bit of a throwback in terms of political style and values. There is something fundamentally American about the guy, which is why the attempts by McCain and Clinton to "otherize" him never worked. Obama may not be just like you and me, but I think he's the kind of person that we want to see ourselves as. I don't see this as hypocritical--quite the opposite, in fact: I think that it is very much a kind of honesty about our country's aspirations. You really can mention Barack Obama in the same sentence as Frank Capra and, unlike some of our recent presidents, it is not in the context of a comparison with Mr. Potter or the mentally challenged guy who lost all the money.