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State of the Union: Can Obama still be transformational? (+video)

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"It was a bona fide campaign speech," Mr. Hess says. "While that's unusual, it's not unique. That's in a sense what Reagan did in 1981."

It was then, in Reagan's first inaugural, that he uttered what would become one of the most memorable lines of his presidency, that "government is not the solution to our problem; government the problem."

Obama, in his embrace of government as a vehicle for good, represents a full turn away from Reaganism – and even in part from policies of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who declared in his 1996 address on the state of the Union that "the era of big government is over."

Now, as his second term begins, Obama is moving fast while the opposition is back on its heels. But here, the Obama-as-Reagan analogy might be a stretch. While the Republican Reagan had a good working relationship with Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill, Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R) haven't been able to deal.

And Reagan was able to scoop up conservative Democrats to make majorities. Today, there are no "Obama Republicans."

Obama has signaled four ways to work around his problem dealing with Congress: First is to deploy Vice President Joe Biden, a Senate veteran, to negotiate, as he did on the Dec. 31 "fiscal cliff." Second is to take executive action when possible, as with his decision to suspend deportations of some young illegal immigrants. Third is to travel frequently outside Washington to work public opinion via the bully pulpit. And fourth is to use his new outside group Organizing for Action – a rebranding of his campaign, which was called Obama for America – to mobilize his millions of grass-roots supporters to back his policies.

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