This year, however, the influence of such a speech remains untested because it was not attempted. President Obama set an unobjectionable goal: “a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” He asserted that this objective can only be achieved “together, as one nation, and one people.” But he proceeded to define an agenda, in some detail, that could have been taken from any campaign speech of the 2012 election. It involves the building of roads and research labs, promoting clean-energy technology, protecting entitlements from significant change, passing equal-pay legislation and immigration reform.

Those who oppose this agenda, in Obama’s view, are not a very admirable lot. They evidently don’t want our wives, mothers and daughters to “earn a living equal to their efforts.” They would cause some citizens “to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.” They mistake “absolutism for principle” and “substitute spectacle for politics” and “treat name-calling as reasoned debate.” They would have people’s “twilight years . . . spent in poverty” and ensure that the parents of disabled children have “nowhere to turn.” They would reserve freedom “for the lucky” and believe that Medicare and Social Security “sap our initiative,” and they see this as “a nation of takers.” They “deny the overwhelming judgment of science” on climate change, don’t want love to be “equal” and apparently contemplate “perpetual war.”