Obama, famously a former community organizer, cut a deal with the Republicans on tax cuts without exercising the basic tenets of organizing. First, internally organize your own side — find out what issues most concern them and assure them that you will make the best effort you can to address those issues. Then take them through a fight with the other side (don’t settle too easily, even if the other side is ready to sign off on a deal) so that your side feels a sense of ownership over the negotiating process and thus, in the course of the struggle, they bind to your leadership. Then make the deal, not at that first available opportunity, but at the last available opportunity (in this case, around 10:15 pm on December 31st) such that you demonstrate to your troops that you pushed the other side to the maximum point and then took the best deal you could. That way, you appear to be a fighter to your side (and they will do whatever they can to facilitate the deal you cut) and a man of reason to the general public.
Process is not content, but process deeply impacts content, and cannot be ignored in how strategic leverage is deployed. Part of the “content” here might have involved the galvanizing of the Democratic base on behalf of the leadership and desires of the Democratic president. Yes, a massive stimulus to the economy that will finally generate substantial growth and declining unemployment is Obama’s only chance to be re-elected, and the only chance for the Democrats in Congress not to suffer another large defeat. So the inadequate and mostly inefficient stimulus in this bill is, on its face, still worth it for Obama to obtain. Good policy is good politics, indeed, in this case, career-saving politics for him. But it perhaps is the case that good policy (in this case a policy that will increase the GDP by 0.5 to 1% according to estimates — an OK boost, but not an enormous one) is not good enough when Obama has to subtract from it the respect and enthusiasm of his base for him. A wildly excited base is worth a few votes in November 2012, too.