Imagine a guy walking into a used car dealership. He feels that the key to getting a good deal is to be kind and negotiate in good faith with the salesman, because obviously both parties involved want the same thing. The salesman wants to move a car and the buyer wants a car at a good price. He tells the salesman, "Just be honest with me. If you level with me and point me toward a car that isn't a lemon, I'll buy it without trying to bust your balls on the price." In other words, I'll give you what you want – the money – if I get one thing that interest me in return. My good-faith gesture establishes trust, and treating you like an honest person who will follow through on an agreement increases the odds that you will act like one.
99% of the time this guy is driving away with the biggest lemon on the lot, the car that the salesman can't pawn off on anyone else. The car that the dealership thought they'd never find a sucker to take. Why? Because the salesman doesn't give a shit about the buyer. All he wants is the money. He's a shark. Every fish in the ocean knows that if they have to deal with him, they can't trust him. The ones that do don't live long enough to learn from their mistake.
Anyone naive enough to trust a used car salesman probably shouldn't be entrusted with the task of buying a used car. The only way to deal with the situation is to walk into the dealership with the explicit understanding that the salesman is going to try to screw you and he can't be trusted any farther than he can be thrown. But let's say you're an optimistic soul and you decide to let your sunny view of human nature prevail. You try to negotiate with him in good faith and end up with a lemon. You certainly wouldn't make the same mistake a second time, would you? How big of a fool would you have to be to do that?
Take that fool, let him repeat the mistake 15 or 20 times, and you'd be Barack Obama.
As John Cole implies, watching the President play this "If I reach out in a sufficiently bipartisany manner, surely the GOP will work with me in good faith" game is beyond old. It's getting embarrassing to watch him play Charlie Brown in the Lucy and the Football skit. Obama organizes feel-good meeting and kisses John Boehner / Mitch McConnell's ass. Obama promises concessions in return for GOP cooperation. GOP takes concession and then refuses to cooperate anyway. Rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. It's humiliating enough to watch him trade $200 billion in upper class tax cuts for a $25 billion extension in unemployment benefits. I lack the adjective to describe watching him fail to get even the meager concession.
When is it going to sink in with this guy? These people hate you. You cannot "work with" them because they do not care about you. They are not interested in playing nice with you. They want to do bad things to you. They are not to be trusted, because they have no reservations about lying to you. They will promise you something in good faith and then laugh at you for being stupid enough to trust them. This is all very obvious. And he's just. not. getting it. All of the playing nice in the world isn't going to matter. Every reaching-out ends the same way: with the GOP holding a gun to his agenda, saying "Give us what we want if you want to see it live," and then putting a bullet through it anyway.
And then they go on TV and tell people he won't work with them. Followed by him going on TV like a whipped puppy and apologizes for not trying hard enough to please them.
Sometimes the best negotiator in the world is going to get screwed. If you have no bargaining power, there really isn't much you can do. If you're Japan at the end of World War II, you can hardly be criticized for a failure to get concessions out of the Allies. I mean, you just don't have any leverage. You have to take whatever you can get. That's exactly the same position that a bad negotiator is in all the time, because if he has any bargaining power he won't be smart enough to realize it. Or he'll trip over himself giving it away. He'll piss it away on trusting someone no reasonable person would trust. He'll start making concessions immediately because he's not smart enough to realize he doesn't have to.
Then he'll do it again, most likely because he's an idiot.