Mr. Obama’s agenda is unlikely to fix the party’s problems. Its elements are not all that popular with voters or even congressional Democrats. It’s hard to envision Democratic candidates in swing districts running under the fiscally irresponsible banner of “Free Community College.” The president’s proposal is especially ironic as the administration attempts shutting down for-profit colleges that do a better job of retaining and graduating the kind of students Mr. Obama says he’s championing.

The president’s pollsters certainly tested the language Mr. Obama used in his speech to Congress. But while politicians can say “middle class” all they want, it wears thin quickly without accompanying substance.

Mr. Judis suggests middle-class voters—those making $50,000-$100,000 a year with baccalaureate degrees—“tend to be less populist than white working-class voters when it comes to blaming Wall Street and the wealthy for the economy’s ills.” They are a growing share of the electorate and unlikely to be impressed with Mr. Obama’s rhetoric or his proposals to raise taxes on the top 20% to provide more refundable tax credits to the bottom 20%. Nor are working-class voters likely to applaud such transfer payments, too easily seen as welfare.