Moments after Obama finished delivering his speech yesterday, in which he strongly defended liberal and Democratic values, Beltway observers rushed to decry the speech as partisan and political. But those words, curiously, were not widely applied to Republicans when they almost uniformly responded to Obama by insisting that a deal is now impossible:

The combative tenor of Obama’s remarks, which included a swipe at his potential GOP challengers in 2012, may have scuttled the stated purpose of the entire enterprise — starting negotiations with Republicans on a workable bipartisan approach to attacking the deficit.

And it didn’t build much good will ahead of other upcoming fights, especially the looming battle over raising the debt ceiling.

“This was not a speech designed for America to win the future, this was a speech designed for the president to attempt to win re-election,” snarled Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the No. 4 in House Republican leadership.

That no one thinks it’s odd Republicans reacted to Obama’s speech is an example of the degree to which Republicans are graded on a curve. When Republicans are partisan, it’s not a big deal, because we expect them to be. When Democrats are partisan, the media’s default setting is that they’re the ones rendering cooperation impossible.

Republicans are proposing a fiscal approach that would cut spending by gutting the social safety net just to pay for tax cuts for top earners — and didn’t actually do too much deficit cutting. Obama responded with a framework that was conservative enough that the heads of the president’s deficit commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, called it “a balanced, comprehensive approach to deficit reduction.” Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities called the proposal “ centrist-to-moderately-conservative” and pointed out that Obama’s proposal balances the budget through spending cuts more than revenue increases, by a 2-1 margin.

Obama’s rhetoric was very liberal, but the substance of his proposal is to the right of where liberals would like it to be. Yet despite the moderation and balance in Obama’s approach, Rep. Paul Ryan, who was called out for garnishing his own proposal with magic employment numbers and inflating the proposal’s bipartisan cred, complained that the president’s speech was “excessively partisan.” And may commentators agreed.

The truth is that this approach by Republicans works beautifully. When Republicans behave in a partisan fashion, it’s treated as part of the game. But when a Democrat shows the slightest bit of spine, he’s somehow defied Beltway etiquette.