Ruth Marcus: President with an agenda

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: January 23, 2013
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This speech set out a series of goals, everything from a revamped tax code to reformed schools to a more humane immigration system to dealing with climate change, against which Obama can be judged when he leaves office. He left himself an out — “We must act, knowing that today's victories are only partial,” the president said — but he also outlined an agenda that made the first term look like a four-year siesta.

In an echo of Martin Luther King's mountaintop, Obama spoke in terms of a journey that is “not complete” until women earn equal pay, “until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote,” until children — including in “the quiet lanes of Newtown,” his oblique reference to gun control — are “safe from harm.”

Most strikingly the president, who four years ago opposed same-sex marriage, announced, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Obama nicely finessed the disconnect between the transcend-partisan-bickering promise of four years ago and the ugly reality of his first term. “Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time,” he said. “For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay.”

Least of all the president. His list is long. The clock is ticking.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP