He promised to bring home half of the 66,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by next year, and the other half a year later. He called for a free-trade agreement with Europe, a goal that sounds boring but could turn out to be the most historic proposal in the speech. And he said he would work to negotiate new nuclear arms reductions with Russia, a measure that, not incidentally, could save real money.
Second terms are often disastrous, and they sometimes fall afoul of a president's conviction that reelection gave him a mandate to do big things.
George W. Bush used the first State of the Union address of his second term to call for the partial privatization of Social Security; the collapse of that effort was an early sign that his presidency was in trouble. Bill Clinton opened his second term with ambitious goals for education and entitlement reforms that went nowhere. He spent much of his remaining tenure battling impeachment instead.
Obama has set more realistic targets. If he meets the most significant of them — immigration reform, even modest steps on gun control, an end to the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan, a free-trade agreement with Europe and, oh yes, implementation of Obamacare — and manages to keep the economy growing, even if slowly, that's not a bad list. Plenty of two-term presidents have done worse.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times.
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