In many ways, his list is appealing and audacious. Climate change is arguably the biggest long-term threat the world faces, yet has been so politically toxic that Obama barely mentioned it until his inaugural last month. Gun violence is a blight on America. Immigration reform is a mainstream idea, championed equally by Obama and former president George W. Bush, that was hijacked by hard-liners.
But if those problems are to be solved, the most important element of his speech might have been a challenge to his fellow Democrats: “Those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms — otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.”
Obama has hardly been a champion of either deficit reduction or entitlement reforms. And his party has increasingly begun to dig in its heels on these matters. So for him to embrace the cause of reforming Medicare — even timidly through means-testing and having the government pay for health care results, not costs incurred — is encouraging, if insufficient.