But the occasionally defiant and often political tenor of his remarks could prove risky. Obama still has to face a Republican Party that controls the House of Representatives and has enough votes to block most Senate legislation.
And he starts his second term with no honeymoon period. Though Obama won re-election with 51.1 percent of the popular vote, his latest Gallup approval rating was 50 percent, meaning his coalition is intact but not growing. Large numbers of Americans remain uneasy about their economic futures.
Chances are the Monday address won’t change Washington, at least not immediately.
Obama bet that by crafting an image as a dogged progressive, Republicans will know he’s ready to fight. The tea party, death panels, more taxes, none of that scares me, he signaled. I’ll be reasonable, he promised, but I’ll be firm.
Whether he can maintain the tough-guy persona will be crucial to his presidency. Obama is the sixth lame duck elected since the 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, imposed a two-term limit on presidents and instantly weakened them.
The lame ducks’ terms were often defined by threats not on the Inauguration Day radar. Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed in 1957 “in our nation, work and wealth abound.” Seven months later, the economy tumbled into a recession. Bill Clinton faced impeachment, and George W. Bush’s second administration confronted the worst recession since the 1930s.
“You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course,” Obama insisted. Strong stuff, but history often says otherwise.