The second Obama

His speech was a full-throated rebuke and disavowal of the conservative argument that government must shrink and cower
CHARLES M. BLOW

Is this the real Barack Obama? I hope so. I like this one. The president used Tuesday's State of the Union address to detail a vision of America's future, and his second term, in which the country is not in perpetual war, government plays an expansive role, Congressional obstruction is named and shamed and he is bold and unapologetically progressive. This is how politicians who needn't worry about re-election look: more like themselves.

The speech was a full-throated rebuke and disavowal of the conservative argument that government must shrink and cower. It was a rebuke of the economic theory that a government's role in revival is to retreat and lift regulations. It was an embrace of the country's growth and diversity and an elevation of those down on their luck. And it was a bring-it-on gesture to the gun lobby and the politicians who fear it.

He aimed much of the speech at a still-struggling middle class, but it was also an open appeal to the poor ó those with jobs and without. He proposed an increase in the federal minimum wage ó from $7.25 an hour to $9 ó and to "tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on." And in what I thought was commendable for a president who has taken some knocks ó including from me ó for not focusing enough on the poor, he said:

"Tonight, let's also recognise that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them."

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