There's a distinct pattern to presidential second terms: grand domestic plans are often pushed aside in favor of practical compromises, advisers leave for cushier private-sector gigs, and the media begins to turn its attention to the next election.
President Barack Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address was short on grand plans and long on workable solutions, including those that can be achieved by going around Congress with executive orders. Obama, who once mocked President Bill Clinton's agenda by saying, “I wasn't sent here to do school uniforms,” proposed a series of measures designed to improve quality of life for working- and middle-class citizens. His planned executive orders: increasing the minimum wage for federal employees, Roth IRA-like “myRA” retirement savings accounts, and improved job-training for government workers.
Many viewers will remember a few things from the speech: Obama's forceful statement that “global warming is a fact” and the use of personal examples of upward mobility, such as General Motors CEO Mary “daughter of a factory worker” Barra and Speaker of the House John “son of a barkeep” Boehner. The most stirring example was Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, cited by the president as a symbol of persistence and patriotism, who received a long standing ovation from the House chamber.
The address had big moments, but for the most part, the sweeping oratory and promises of change of Obama's first term have been replaced with smaller, more practical pledges to get things done to help the middle class. How successful he is in getting them implemented will determine whether Obama is able to avoid lame-duck status in the last two years of his term.