Climate change and sustainable energy: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said, rehashing failed pieces of his first-term agenda. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” he added. Obama tried to push a sweeping cap-and-trade climate bill through Congress in his first term, but it died in the Senate in 2010. Since then, cap-and-trade has become politically toxic and is considered dead on arrival in Congress. The only way Obama could take action would be by using his executive authority to roll out controversial environmental regulations that would cut carbon pollution from existing coal plants. But that would generate massive push-back from industry and Environmental Protection Agency critics on Capitol Hill. At least Obama acknowledged that the path to sustainable energy “will be long and sometimes difficult.”…

Unspoken agenda: The irony is that Obama spent more time talking about issues he will have a hard time moving the needle on than the issues sitting on his near-term agenda. Among them, several more rounds of fiscal battles that threaten to crowd out Obama’s second-term agenda won only passing reference. Obama said, “We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit” before defending Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as commitments that strengthen the country. He offered perhaps one hint the he could be more likely to cut Medicare than insurance subsidies when he said, “we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”