The speech was an appeal to civic engagement that might goad the political class out of its dysfunction.
“For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it ... We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity ... We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” he said.
On most key issues — wealth distribution, gun control, gay marriage — the public, “we the people,” is more inclined to Obama’s positions than those held by the US Congress, but have yet to feel sufficiently energized to fight for those views the way their opponents do. With his election victory behind him, Obama now understands that any legacy beyond being the first black president will hinge on his ability to bring pressure to bear on Congress from the outside.
So the second audience was Congress in general and Republicans in particular. There were scathing lines for them.
“We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate,” he said.
The crowds in Washington of course were smaller than last time and, even though it was Martin Luther King Day, the historic nature of the event was more low key. Nonetheless, the energy in the crowd still, at times, came off more like a campaign rally than a state event. The romance may have gone. However, the love is still there.