State of the Union addresses are one of the few public political ceremonies in the US system. It’s amusing to see president after president walk to the podium and deliver a one-hour plus ode to the “decency of American working people.” This president was no different, even if he seems more eloquent than others. What the president’s speech does is lay out a connection between government activism and “rewarding” the decency of Americans. It is a stark contrast to other politicians that might regard “working people” as dependent or morally failing.

The best of Republican presidents could offer a connection to “working people” by ensuring that their decency should be rewarded with a government that will keep them save, preserve the purity of their culture or unburden them and their employers from excessive taxation and regulation. This message has worked effectively for them for the past three decades (and still works for just under half of the American electorate).

For me, it is hard to tease out whether this is a rhetorical “progressive moment” or an actual “progressive moment.” The president’s agenda is grandiose but is there the financial room to maneuver and the political dynamics necessary to bring them about. My gut says, not but that it is good politics that could help shift the house to the Dems in 2014. If that happens then the rhetoric is closer to becoming reality.