The Liberated Liberal

Interesting take on President Obama's State of the Union Address yesterday:

The best way to understand the State of the Union, in other words, is as a statement in the constant conversation between the president and his party. In his sixth such address—as it’s been since the beginning of his presidency—his message was as mediated by party debates as it was bounded by party limits.

And if you want to see how the political and ideological limits of the Democratic Party have expanded since the 2012 election, just look at the scope of Obama’s rhetoric. Following the path paved by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—who has captured the energy of the Democratic grass roots—Obama has offered a muscular defense of the party’s liberalism and the programs it has produced.
It’s worth noting that none of this is out of sync with the Democratic Party’s agenda through the 20th century. In his own sixth-year State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton touted Social Security and proposed a tax credit for long-term care of the disabled. The difference is that Obama has almost abandoned the "Third Way" approach of his Democratic predecessor. Where Clinton proposed private accounts for Social Security, touted deficit reduction, and called for Congress to toughen its drug laws, Obama has pushed for infrastructure spending, ignored presidential ledger counting, and asked Congress to "reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all."

If anything, Obama’s confident, assertive liberalism is a return to the immediate postwar era, when Democratic governance was broadly popular and ascendant. "I think everybody knows that social insurance and better schools and health services are not frills, but necessities in helping all Americans to be useful and productive citizens, who can contribute their full share in the national effort to protect and advance our way of life," said President Truman in his 1952 address, the sixth and final one of his presidency. The rhythm is different but the rhyme is the same: Government has a place in securing prosperity and protecting ordinary people.

With that said, there are still limits to the scope of this new Democratic liberalism. Obama’s speech was strong, but his agenda was relatively modest. Even if Congress adopted all of Obama’s economic proposals, it would put just a small dent in the towering inequality that defines modern American life. Core problems of wage stagnation, social mobility, and retirement security remain unaddressed by most Democrats...