I don’t want to dwell on the SOTU address (which I avoided live-blogging for that very reason), but what surprises me is that anyone would be puzzled by the president’s stubborn refusal to move himself (or urge his party to move) towards the center. I think he’s concerned with one thing only — winning reelection in 2012. Any move towards the center right now will be seen by everyone as weakness. Moreover, it might help the Democrats win in November, and if that happens, Obama’s hopes for victory in 2012 will be greatly diminished. His only hope of hanging on to the White House will be to blame all failures on the Republicans — something he is already trying to do, but unless the Republicans regain the House, that claim will sound ever more ridiculous. If voters are tired of him now, imagine how tired they’ll be in two more years. And if the Democrats survive in the Fall, that voter tiredness will be compounded by the desire for political balance, which could easily translate into voting him out of office.
Obviously, the man can’t admit that it is in his interest for the GOP to win, but he can — and did — arrogantly refuse to pivot to the center, as Jonah Goldberg observes:

…Obama, in his supreme arrogance, didn’t really seem to care.
There was no “pivot to the center,” no serious accounting for the Massachusetts miracle or his misfortunes. Instead, there was an innumerate, inaccurate and distinctly unpresidential whine — blaming George W. Bush for nearly all of his problems (leaving out, among other things, that the Democrats have been controlling Congress and crafting budgets since 2006).

Of course he wants to leave that out.
To be perfectly blunt, the Democratic Congress does not suit his presidential narrative!
And the narrative just begs for more Republican power. Otherwise, things become so surreal that Obama is left having to be elected by a backlash against himself!

The White House insists that the new wave of populism created by Democratic governance is, in fact, the same populist wave that carried Obama to victory in 2008. In other words, Obama was elected president by the backlash against his own presidency.
This novel theory allows Obama to stick to his view that there’s nothing wrong with his health-care plan, and anyone who feels differently hasn’t heard or understood the president’s explanations.
So, he not only implored Democrats not to “run for the hills” on the health-reform bill, but insisted that as “temperatures cool,” hot-tempered opponents will, of course, realize they were wrong about the bill.
Obama began his presidency insisting that government is the answer to our problems. A year later, he still believes that the era of big government is upon us.

While I don’t mean to sound like a psychiatrist, I’m seeing a desperate (and obviously unacknowledged) need for a Republican victory. By President Obama. He can’t continue to play the role of stubbornly brave victim without their help.
Noting the President’s “uncompromising and often combative” tone, Clive Crook expressed wonderment over a particular passage in the speech:

The weirdest paragraph was this:
Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.
One could spend a while untangling that. Are we supposed to empathize with Obama for the setbacks he has suffered at the hands of voters-and admire his resilience in the face of these misfortunes? It is as though losing political support and an election or three is not a judgment on the administration’s performance: it is an accident, an injustice even, akin to somebody losing his job. But Obama will carry on, just as America’s people will carry on, because he is righteously determined to ignore the voters’ opinion.
When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound so good.

But when you look at 2012, it makes a lot of sense. Especially after two years of a Congress recaptured by those equally stubborn and recalcitrant Republicans!
From the text of the speech:

Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

Ever the martyr, he wants to be seen as a guy who will face defeat for what he believes in. Even though his own party has had a super-majority, somehow there’s a conspiracy against him.
He knew that this would happen. But if only they really were Republicans, it would be more believable. The latter, with their “disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security” offer a very convenient, very intractable enemy, and deeply entrenched divisions — which are “the essence of democracy.”

Now, I am not naïve. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era. I knew that both parties have fed divisions that are deeply entrenched. And on some issues, there are simply philosophical differences that will always cause us to part ways. These disagreements, about the role of government in our lives, about our national priorities and our national security, have been taking place for over two hundred years. They are the very essence of our democracy.

I pity the centrist Democrats. They only want to get reelected, and here it is, the president’s biggest speech of the year, coming right on the heels of a series of high-profile Republican victories, and the president is stoking and praising the divisions. Little wonder the centrist Democrats are annoyed.
UPDATE: Many thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and a warm welcome to all.
Comments invited, agree or disagree.