Talks that had been at a standstill may now crumble, thanks to the Geithner-Nabors proposal. The president is boxing in the Republicans—offering them a deal they cannot accept, a deal they can’t even be seen to be treating seriously. Mr. Boehner is legitimately interested in a bargain that will set the country on sounder footing. Yet the most immediate outcome of such an open slap from the White House will be to make even those Republicans who were willing to cut a deal harden their positions. Someone get the White House a copy of “Negotiating Tactics for Dummies.”

Then again, the most frightening aspect of the White House proposal is that it wasn’t an error. Perhaps the proposal was thoroughly calculated. This suggests a president who doesn’t care about the outcome of the cliff negotiations—who thinks that he wins politically no matter what. He’s betting that either the GOP will be far more responsible than he is and do anything to avert a crisis, or that the cliff gives him the tax hikes his partisans are demanding. Win-win, save for the enormous pain to average families across the country.

The Republicans will have to contemplate how to deal with such an unserious offer. But in presenting his demands, the president has now made very clear that there is only one side that is working in good faith.