Noam Scheiber argues that Barack Obama has always been a liberal, but it looks as if he is going to use his second term to make an argument for liberalism. Here is a taste from Scheiber's piece at The New Republic:
The change we started to see in late 2011, when Obama kicked off a
series of populist speeches after his failed negotiations with John
Boehner, reflects Obama’s belated recognition of this. And that change
was on full display today. Pre-2011, Obama would suggest that the need
for “a basic measure of security and dignity” was a matter of consensus
and then fulminate against the procedural hurtles to realizing it. Since
then, he’s been much more aware of the fact that tens of millions of
people disagree with what he regards as a commonsense role for
government, and he’s been much more focused on defending it. Today he
explained that “no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of
us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home
swept away in a terrible storm.” He added that Medicare, Medicaid, and
Social Security don’t “sap our initiative,” as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
would have it. “They free us to take the risks that make this country
great.” Those are simple enough points, but they’re powerful and can’t
be made enough.
Of course, you could argue that there wasn’t much new in Obama’s
speech if it reflects an m.o. he adopted well over a year ago. But I
disagree. Since his emergence on the national scene, Obama has clung to
the Eisenhower-era distinction between campaigning and governing: You
make your case during election season, then take down the TV ads and
stump speeches when it’s over so you can get on with policymaking.
Before today, it was possible to believe Obama still clung to that
distinction. Yes, he’d started down this new path in the fall of 2011.
But by that point the presidential campaign had effectively begun, so a
campaign posture made sense. And yes, he’d kept it up during the recent
lame-duck period. But, then, it was easy to see the "fiscal cliff"
negotiations as an extension of the presidential campaign.
An inaugural address is unambiguously different though. It’s the
thematic roadmap to a president’s forthcoming time in office. By
choosing to start his second term with a case for liberalism, Obama
announced that arguing for his worldview isn’t a separate task from
governing. It’s central to governing.