It seems that Obama was surprised by the backlash garnered when he announced plans to tax withdrawals from 529 education savings plans. What did he expect?
He said during the State of the Union address that he was going to change the regulations governing the savings plans and treat any interest as taxable income, gutting the intent of the plans: to help save for post secondary education. What makes his idea even more laughable is that he would use the revenues to pay for “free” community college, meaning he was taking money from the very people he said he was going to help, in this case the middle class. This sounds almost like the old “Gimme your lunch money!” extortion pulled by the school bully. How is it the President thought there wouldn't be a hew and cry from those who were about to have their savings accounts raided to help pay for someone else's education? Or did he know and just not give a damn?
Of the two, I'd say it was more likely the latter as we already know he has no love of the middle class, indicated by the actions he's taken over the past six years that have decimated it.
While he claimed this would really only affect the rich, the rich generally don't use 529 plans to pay for their kids' education. They usually pay it out of pocket. The biggest users of the 529 plans are the middle class, not that that little detail bothered him in the least.
At least now that he's backed away from the idea, seeing the huge negative reactions to it by both parties in Congress, and knowing he would never get away with imposing such a tax by executive order. (If I remember the Constitution correctly he has no power to do so, which could lead to a constitutional crisis and either intervention by the Supreme Court or impeachment by Congress.)
Obama is finding out rather late in the game that he isn't omnipotent and that elections have consequences...for him.