Second act: Obama lays out an ambitious set of priorities

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President Barack Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union speech Tuesday, on how he sees America at present and which issues he feels must be addressed in the next four years. A quick look at half the faces in the audience made it clear that his proposals would be a hard sell.

Nonetheless, the president made an effort to bridge the gulf between the White House and Congress and between Republicans and Democrats, quoting President John F. Kennedy's characterization of the different elements in America's government as "partners for progress."

The gaps to be spanned could be seen not only in the sober look on Republican House Speaker John Boehner, but also in the dual responses to his message by Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, with the official Republican reply, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, representing the views of the Tea Party, the GOP's far right wing.

Mr. Obama's priorities included addressing the budget gridlock, with the $1 trillion in automatic cuts coming in two weeks. He expressed concern but not panic and made it clear that he was not going to back off his insistence on a "fair share" approach to revenue. He also called for tax reform, with fewer loopholes for America's privileged.

Citing the nation's drought and other extreme weather events, he spoke of the need to address climate change, a subject that legislators supported by business interests do not like. He called for a new Energy Security Trust and an upgrade of America's infrastructure through a "Fix-It-First" initiative. As to human infrastructure, Mr. Obama pledged to seek pre-school education for all children, an ambitious plan since only three in 10 4-year-olds receive it. He also made the case for immigration reform, which has bipartisan support.

Finally, the main theme of the president's State of the Union, in his own words and in the roster of guests he had assembled to reinforce the message, was the country's need for gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre of first-graders and other such violence. Seeking to preempt the Republicans' likely tactic against legislation on background checks and assault weapons by preventing it from coming to the floor, he repeated that the victims "deserve a vote" on the measures, which became almost a chorus among his supporters.

Mr. Obama's speech showed leadership and a toughened sense of priorities. His audience was left with no doubt about what he believes is needed to move the country forward, an ambitious but worthy list.

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