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Obama's ambitious speech

Ezra Klein

Publication: The Day

Published February 14. 2013 4:00AM   Updated February 14. 2013 11:21AM

That was an incredibly ambitious speech.

If President Obama managed to pass every policy he proposed Tuesday, the United States would be a noticeably different country in a couple of years.

In some ways, what was most noticeable about the speech was what wasn't in it: nothing. It was difficult to come up with a single policy favored by Obama's party that was left out of this speech. The speech included the politically possible and the politically implausible. It had the poll-tested policies, like small tweaks to encourage manufacturing jobs, and policies that have a tougher time in the polls, such as putting a price on carbon.

It's often the case that candidates are more ambitious than presidents. But Obama's second term is showing the reverse progression. The speech went further than Obama's 2012 Democratic convention speech. There, his address was notable mainly for modest proposals. Here, his speech was notable for the sweeping nature of the proposed changes. Obama's agenda hasn't been this bold since 2009.

The difference between 2009 and 2013, of course, is that Democrats no longer control the House. Most of these proposals have little chance of becoming law, at least right now.

But the difference between 2011 and 2013 is that Obama isn't content to let Republicans drive the agenda. He intends to set the terms of the discussion. The past two years have been all deficit, all the time. But the president doesn't intend to let the next two years be similarly dominated by the debt.

Much of Obama's second-term agenda may not pass. But he has an agenda, and it's an ambitious one.

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Most Recent Poll
What did you think of President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night?
I thought he gave a moving speech that was a call to action on gun control, climate change and the economy.
26%
I thought it was heavy on platitudes and light on details, like most State of the Union addresses.
33%
I didn't hear a word he said; Speaker John Boehner's death mask of a face had me transfixed.
9%
What was up with VP Joe Biden's rose-colored glasses?
4%
No idea; I was watching the exciting Bruins-Rangers game.
29%
Number of votes: 758

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