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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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