That victory virtually assures that Congress will ease immigration laws. The post-election massacre in Newtown, Conn., gave him a chance to enact modest gun control legislation.
It all would make for a solid record, but Obama surely wants to be remembered as more than a merely good president. What else can he do?
Climate change is an existential threat to mankind, a hugely complicated issue that could foist a problem-solving leader into the pantheon of presidencies. And yet it remains a mere promise: Obama challenged Congress to take action and said if they don't, he will use his executive powers to limit pollutants.
"For the sake of our children and our future," Obama said, "we must do more to combat climate change."
Preventing the looming debt-and-deficit crisis would burnish Obama's legacy, but he faces a stubborn, antitax Republican Party. While Obama has the upper hand on the issue politically, he is in cahoots with the GOP in one respect: Neither side has been willing to admit that taming the deficit would require sacrifice by all Americans, including the middle class.
But, unlike GOP leaders, Obama is willing to upset his political allies. He signaled again that he was open to finding savings in Medicare.
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Obama urged Republicans to postpone the looming deadline for draconian budget cuts, giving both sides room to negotiate a so-called grand bargain on deficit reduction. "Let's agree, right here and now, to keep the people's government open, pay our bill on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America," he said.
Finally, the economy is a legacy enhancer. He focused most of the speech on jobs, economic growth, and a rising middle class, making up for the fact that coverage of his inaugural address glossed over those issues.
"Deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan," Obama said. "A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs--that must be the North Star that guides our efforts."
He proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour and providing preschool to all 4-year-olds, poll-tested programs that would indisputably help the working poor and rising middle-class.
White House officials conceded that the GOP House is unlikely to pass a minimum wage hike, and states would bear the brunt of the preschool proposal.
He promised to create more "Manufacturing Innovation Institutes," which have been proven to create jobs that might already go overseas. Obama also renewed his call to invest billions of dollars in the nation's crumbling infrastructure, particularly bridges and roads.
Responsible homeowners should be able to refinance their mortgages at today's lower rates, he said, and the federal government should spend $15 billion to help people repair homes in economically depressed areas.