After President Barack Obama delivered a second inaugural address that included — in less than 20 minutes — five references to faith and God, four to risk taking and free enterprise, four to the Declaration of Independence and only one each to “Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security,” the pundits summarily proclaimed that the president had served up … a frothing liberal manifesto.

But in reality, as The Root’s Lawrence Bobo wrote, the speech was a barely controversial, middle-of-the-road “velvet glove” attempt to strike a bipartisan chord of “American can-do optimism.” So much for the expectations game.

And leading up to Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the first of his second term, Obama has already been upstaged by the pope’s just-announced abdication; Ted Nugent’s planned appearance in the House gallery as a guest of Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas); and the news that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — who’s a week out from being named the GOP’s “savior” on the cover of Time magazine — will give the Republican response in both English and Spanish.

So, with observers taking creative license with Obama’s inaugural and reading into it either a (take your pick) liberal/conservative, bold/combative defense of/imposition of progressive aims rather than the calibrated political speech that it was, Team Obama ought to take a lesson for the State of the Union and scrap any plans to set a broader tone — and focus on hitting the highlights of its short-to-medium-term agenda:


The Hill found that only 36 percent of voters even know what “sequestration” — roughly defined as a seizure of assets — is. But over the next few weeks, they’ll see the White House and Congress point fingers at each other over who’s to blame if, on March 1, a 2011 sequestration package of discretionary spending cuts takes effect. The SOTU is the president’s last chance to offer his side of the story while he has the nation’s undivided attention before a smorgasbord of painful federal cuts kicks in.