President Obama's State of the Union speech demonstrated a rule for governing in politically divided times: Insert yourself the least where the chance of success is best.
Obama devoted nearly nine minutes at the top of his speech to a meticulous description of his bargaining position for the next round of budget confrontations with congressional Republicans. He detailed at length his proposals for replacing the automatic spending reductions that are scheduled to take effect next month, using the word "I" five times as he did so.
By contrast, Obama spent just two minutes on the subject he has called the administration's top legislative priority: immigration reform. He claimed no specific proposals as his own, but praised "bipartisan groups in both chambers" who he said were "working diligently to draft a bill."
That contrast ran through the speech — detailed and partisan on some issues, briefer and bipartisan on others. The two approaches reflect the contrasting strategies Obama intends to follow in his second term. They are strategies shaped by a reality that Obama has slowly come to accept during his years in office: Today's highly polarized atmosphere sharply constrains what Theodore Roosevelt once labeled as the "bully pulpit" of the presidency.
MARCO RUBIO GAVE THE GOP RESPONSE TO THE ADDRESS: