President Barack Obama's speech Wednesday, at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., laid out his vision for improving the economic circumstances of America's middle class.
That vision includes jobs, education, home ownership, secure retirement and health care. He added to the mix a return to Americans' access to upward mobility. He suggested an attack on income inequality, although he held out an olive branch to business, whose CEOs along with the top 1 percent have done disproportionately well in recent years compared with the middle class.
The administration's new policy theme is "an economy that grows from the middle out, not the top down."
How much of this is realistic remains to be seen. Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reacted to Mr. Obama's speech with expressions of contempt. Their first complaint was that he was taking the debates that dominate Washington on the road, to the people, an astonishing response. Their second point was that Mr. Obama had put forward no new ideas. That is true, but it was clear that the president was setting out a general vision of what he intended, not presenting a stack of proposals.
Although Mr. Obama did cite in his speech what he considers the successes of his administration in restoring America's economic health, he also acknowledged, "We're not there yet." He said that he was working toward a long-term strategy, suggesting that few immediate results would be seen.
The months ahead will provide the Republican majority in the House and its minority in the Senate with opportunities such as battles over the budget and extending the debt limit to continue blocking measures that Mr. Obama puts forward. In setting out his vision of what America's middle class wants, he will put the Republicans' obstructive strategy to the test. The latest polling shows Americans giving Congress an approval rating of only 12 percent.
It will be revealing to see which vision Americans support, and if that view can be acted upon in Washington's tiresome fire and brimstone.