There are two issues at play here and I'm not sure either is really that big of a deal. Or rather more interesting, if you were Microsoft, what would you do? (Actually, better to think yourself not Microsoft since many are biased against them.)
The dirty secret is buried deep down in the «Compatibility view» configuration panel, where the «Display intranet sites in Compatibility View» box is checked by default. Thus, by default, intranet pages are not viewed in standards mode.
Considering, at least from what Microsoft has shared and from I imagine many intranets are like, with intranets often targeting IE directly, doesn't it make sense to have an option to default to a compatibility mode? Keep in mind, as well, that many larger organizations can deploy IE with specific settings and this is likely to be one of those situations. Consider that many companies didn't want to upgrade to IE7 because it didn't work with their intranet software. Wouldn't it be great to allow these people to upgrade to IE8, knowing full well that their intranet infrastructure doesn't have to be upgraded at the same time? We do want people to upgrade to IE8, right? We certainly wouldn't want a reason for them not to.
Furthermore, web standards are discriminated against in IE8 by the icon that appears next to standards-compliant web pages:
This second—and more egregious issue, if only slightly so—is the icon. I think Hakon reads way too much into it to think there's some subliminal play here that the web is broken but good ol' IE can "fix it". When I saw the icon my initial reaction was, "Oh excellent, if a page is broken," and using a broken page for icongraphy seems apt, "I only have to click a button to possibly fix it." At no point did I think, "Yeah, those stupid web standards fuckers keep breaking the web. It's a good thing IE got it right."
It may be fun to pick on Microsoft and the IE team but from where I'm standing, it's all just a little tiresome.