Using TR as an all-American frame, President Obama was able to strike populist tones and sound less like a liberal social democrat, detailing the growing gap in average CEO salaries from 30 times the average worker a few decades ago to 110 times today.

He decried the growth of money in politics, saying we now “run the risk of selling our democracy to the highest bidder.” He gained applause for college loan reforms and the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, while casting the GOP presidential candidates as advocates of the same financial rules that were widely abused and led to the enduring Great Recession.

Casting our time as analogous to the dislocation caused by the Industrial Revolution, the president argued for a bullish view of American competitiveness in the global economy even with increased government regulation, saying, “The world is shifting to an innovation based economy — and nobody does innovation better than America.”

But most of all this was a speech that offered a clear contrast in government philosophy, between the idea that the government has an active role to play in strengthening the middle class and fueling American meritocracy or whether a more purely free market, laissez-faire capitalism can achieve those goals more effectively in the real world.